Thursday, February 23, 2017

Called Over the Top

Be Outrageous. Be stupid.
Jesus said so.
Your friends are supposed to think that you’re crazy.
If you were here, I mentioned this on Sunday, but it’s worth saying again.  In Matthew (5:38-48) Jesus makes a series of statements that often begin with “You have heard it said, but…” in which he tells his listeners that the conventional wisdom, the ordinary assumptions of daily life, were just plain wrong.  Everyone assumed that the best defense against violence was to fight back, taking an eye for an eye, but Jesus says that the only way to reduce violence is to refuse to participate in it, to “turn the other cheek.”
Most of us have heard that before, but that was just the beginning.  He also says that” if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”  This is extraordinary.  In our litigious, twenty-first century society most of us make two errors in reading this.  First, we incorrectly assume that Jesus means for us to give a shirt to someone who won a lawsuit, but that isn’t it at all.  Jesus said, “If anyonewants to sue you…” so his instruction is to do an end run around the legal system, call it a loss, and just give it to them.  Our second mistake comes from our relative wealth and our expectation of the same on the Biblical story.   But Jesus was talking to people who lived in an entirely different world, most of them probably only owned one coat.  And so, Jesus’ instruction to “hand over your coat” is not only one of generosity, but one that is over-the-top, crazy, and disturbingly generous.  This is generosity that expensive and costly, and not just giving that is comfortable and comes from our excess.
Jesus continues, saying “If anyone forces you to walk one mile, go with them two.”  And, while this seems relatively straightforward, most of us still don’t understand the root of his comment.  As I understand the history of it, under Roman occupation, one of the standing rules that the occupied nation lived under, was that if any Roman soldier asked, any citizen had to accompany them for one mile and carry their pack, or whatever else they demanded you to carry.  So remembering that most people really resented the presence of the Roman soldiers in the first place, Jesus is saying that you need treat your enemies and the people you despise, and here it is again, with…disturbing generosity.
Why should we do all this?
Jesus answered that by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  We are called to behave in these strange, unfamiliar, and unpopular ways because these are the things that God does.  This is how God behaves.  And if we have any desire to be associated with him, to be called “children of God” then we probably ought to act like God does.
But going this far still wasn’t enough.  Jesus pounds the point several more times to make sure that we really begin to understand just how crazy we’re supposed to be.  Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  That’s pretty plain, but if you need a modern translation, here it is.
It doesn’t impress anyone that your love is “just as good” as the tax collectors, or that you are “just as loving” as everyone else.  Being “just like everyone else” means that you are no different than everyone else and that your faith is no better than their lack of faith.  The followers of Jesus Christ have been called to be different; we are called to a higher standard.  Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
So get out there.  Go out into your neighborhoods, and your places of business.  Be willing to take a loss.  Go out into the world and be extravagantly, disturbingly, generous even when it is costly to you.  Be so generous that people think you’re crazy.  Be nice.  But be so nice that everyone thinks that you must be crazy… or stupid… or both.  Be friendly and outgoing.  Be loving.  But your friendliness and your love should be so over the top that it gets people talking about you.
Be outrageous.
Be stupid.
Your friends are supposed to think that you’re crazy.
Remember our goal isn’t to blend in; our goal is to stand out.
Our goal isn’t to be “just like everyone else,” our goal… is to be perfect.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Five Countries, Three Continents

As you probably know by now, Patti and I have returned from our mission trip to Liberia, Africa with the Farmer to Farmer mission team.  This was my first trip to Africa, and Patti’s second, having been to Kenya fifteen years ago.  But while both of us have considerable travel experience, there was a lot for us to learn and digest.  In the days and months ahead we will be sharing our stories in church and putting our photographs into some sort of presentation as we attempt to tell the story of what we did, what Farmer to Farmer is attempting to accomplish, and why we want to invite our friends to go with us on a future trip.
For now however, I just want to give you a really short outline of what we did.
Our trip to Harrisburg began with a trip to the airport in Cleveland on January 10th, where our team divided into two groups.  For reasons that I still don’t completely understand, the folks making our reservations found that the cheapest rates could only be purchased for groups of no more than four people.  So, although all of us met in Cleveland, three of us were heading toward Brussels, Belgium through Washington, DC, and four through Toronto, Canada.  Patti, Pryde Bass, and I left for Washington first and the others were supposed to leave five minutes before us.  But as we arrived in Washington (and cell service), we discovered that they had been delayed by poor weather in Toronto and would miss their connection to Brussels.  Even worse, once we arrived in Brussels (and a good internet connection) we found that they would arrive in Liberia almost a day and a half behind us.
Our flight to Brussels was uneventful and after several hours we boarded our flight to Monrovia, Liberia with a stop in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  The pilot announced that they hoped to make the stop in Freetown as short as possible but we soon discovered that wasn’t going to happen.  Apparently, the ticketing agents in Freetown forgot that although many people had deplaned, some of us were staying onboard for the trip to Monrovia.  As a result, they issued more tickets than there were seats.  What resulted was a really jam packed airplane, overstuffed luggage compartments, and I’m sure that I saw one or two passengers sitting in the jump seats that are reserved for the crew.
We arrived in Monrovia around 9:30 pm (January 11th), were picked up and swept through the VIP line and out to a waiting car (with air conditioning) while our hosts made sure that our passports were properly processed and collected our baggage.  The drive to Harrisburg took two hours and after traveling for a day and a half, I didn’t do well sitting in the back seat.  After about an hour and a half I had to ask the driver to pull over (in the middle of nowhere) so I could… um… get some air.
Eventually our team was reunited and we got to work.  While we were there we worked on improvements to the Farmer to Farmer guest house in Harrisburg to make future mission teams a little more comfortable, but we also did a great many things to help Saint John’s United Methodist Church and the people of Harrisburg.  Some of our group took steps to get a deed to the property on which we hope to build a new high school.  This is a big deal because this type of document can only be processed by the federal government and there are a great many steps (and necessary signatures) that are required.  Other members got the ball rolling with a United Methodist team (a part of the Liberian Annual Conference) that digs wells to restore a well at Saint John’s UM church, but also to repair three non-functioning wells in town for the people of Harrisburg, and to dig one more in the village of Painesville near Monrovia.  We also built room dividers, blackboards, bookshelves, and study tables for the public school, donated school supplies to Saint John’s preschool, to the Lutheran elementary school, and to the government (public) school, and donated medicine and supplies to the community health clinic.  There’s more to our story but these are the highlights.
Our return trip took about from Harrisburg, to Monrovia, to Brussels, to Toronto, to Cleveland, and then home.  Altogether to took about 36 hours, with around half of that flying and half just sitting in airports waiting.
In the end, although it sounds a little strange, what’s even greater than the things that we did was simply our presence there.  To a people who live far from the big city, in a country ruined by decades of civil war, to people who have less than most of us can even imagine, just being there is a reminder that they have not been forgotten, that people care, that the church cares, and that their lives matter to someone.  I had been told about this before we left and again after we arrived, but as we met people and made friends there, it was easy to see in their faces, and by their actions, that this was absolutely true.  Seeing that we were there, and just knowing that we cared enough to offer a little help, was enough to give people hope.
Again, wow.
Stay tuned.  We’ll be sharing more about our trip in the days ahead. 
Meanwhile, please pray and ask God if he is calling you to join us on our next trip (in a year or two).
Pastor John

Trinity Remembers Alan Lee Keller

Alan Lee Keller

May 29, 1960 - January 13, 2017 
Resided in North Fort Myers, FL

Alan L. Keller, 56, passed away at home in North Fort Myers, FL, surrounded by his family on January 13, 2017.

He was born on May 29, 1960 in Massillon to Arvine Keller and the late Dorothy (Yatsko) Keller.  Alan was a graduate of Perry High School, Akron University and Embry-Riddle University.

Alan loved to be the life of the party. He was kind, thoughtful, generous and caring. He had never met a stranger.  He thought of life as an adventure and loved to live it. He worked as a Technology Specialist for Delta Airlines for thirty – four years.

In addition to his father he is also survived by his sister, Cheryl (Richard) Feucht; three nephews, Scott (Revital) Feucht, Cory (Maggie) Feucht and Drew Feucht; and two grand-nephews, Camden and Owen.

Friends may call on Saturday, January 21, 2017 from 10:00am-11:00am at Trinity United Methodist Church where a funeral service will be held at 11:00am, Rev. Julia Wertz, officiating.  Burial will be in Union Lawn Cemetery.

Messages of condolence may be sent to the family at

Alan has requested in-lieu of flowers that his friends and family should show love for your fellow man, give generously to those in need and live life to the fullest.