The Hardest Lesson – Love

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“This is my commandment, that you love one another.” John 15:12

It sounds so simple; it turns out to be so hard! To love some others, sure: Some people are easy to love. But if you knew a certain individual in my family. . . my office. . . my neighborhood! To treat all people decently, to be civil, to accord them their rights—that, with great self-control, I may manage. But to love them? The selfish, the arrogant? God alone could love some of the people I have to deal with!

It’s God’s attitude that allows me to love more than I would. Looking at Scripture, we get a sense that first century Christians were drawn to each other by this attitude of love. During Jesus’ lifetime, they understood that their path to the Kingdom stayed true when they put the interests of others ahead of their own. (Acts 4:34) Onlookers reported that there didn’t seem to be a needy person among them. Wherever these first Christians went, healing and prayer followed them.

What happened to this little group that followed the Rabbi from Nazareth? Pentecost happened, so they were blessed by the Holy Spirit, which made them more loving because they had made room in their lives for Jesus.

Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Done,
With all Thy quickening powers;
Kindle a flame of sacred love
In these cold hearts of ours.
Isaac Watts

God, give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Reinhold Niebuhr
(1892-1971)

Living So Others See Christ in Me

by Rev Robert A Wendel

The Lord make His face shine upon the, and be gracious unto thee. Numbers 6:25

A six-ton block of Carrara marble, from Mount Altissimo in Italy, stands in Christus Gardens in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Carved within the flecked marble is a concave sculpture of the face of Christ. (A concave sculpture looks as though the image has been pressed into the marble, like a handprint pressed into wet cement.) Beneath the face, these words have been carved: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place keeping watch upon the evil and the good.”

As you move to the left of the sculpture, and then to the right, you can understand why the artist had chosen those words. Christ’s whole face seems to move with you. Not just His eyes, but His entire face seems to move with you, wherever you go. Even though it is an optical illusion, it seems to fitting that a sculpture of Christ should possess such a mystical quality.

As I look at my own life, I wonder if I have done as good a job as the Italian artist. I have attempted to carve the face of God’s Son into my humanity, but what kind of face have I carved? How do others see Christ in me? The sculpture has given me something to strive for. I pray that Christ’s image is pressed deeply into me, in a concave fashion, so that when others move to the left of me or to the right, they will see Christ turn and gaze out upon them. . . . . from all angles of my life.

Dear Father, help us to carve the face of Your Son within our hearts. And may His face have the freedom to turn loving toward others—no matter where they walk. Amen.

“The Resurrection gives my life meaning and direction and the opportunity to start over, no matter what my circumstances.” –Robert Flatt

Remembering Unsung Heroes

by Rev Robert A Wendel

In everything, do to others, as you would have them do to you. Matthew 7:12

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely. Hebrews 12:1

In the town where I grew up, Robert and Charles Livingston were a pair of brothers who delivered the daily newspaper to our town of six hundred. They did this for more than a decade and a half. Most of us took them for granted. The paper was always there, come rain or shine.

Recently I began to think about so many other service workers we hardly notice: garbage workers, mail carriers, garage mechanics, and even policemen and emergency workers. Through the years there have always been those workers in discount stores, restaurants, hospitals, swimming pools, and school classrooms. All of them serve the public well. As I moved into apartments, there were plumbers, electricians, painters, and electronic repair people.

One important lesson we all can learn is not to take such ordinary people for granted. A “Thank you” and an occasional cash tip might be appreciated.

One special person I remember meeting is Phil Coyne, who had been an usher for the Pittsburgh Pirates for eighty-one years, doing nothing more than showing people to their seats. Before his retirement, he became a legend among Pittsburgh sports fans, dying in April at age 102. His biggest achievement was the thousands of friends he made over the years. People can easily remember those around us who live out the Golden Rule.

“We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa

Music: The Rhythm of Our Lives

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; praise Him with the psaltery and the harp.”
“With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”

Psalm 150:3 (KJV); Colossians 3:17 (NRSV)

I used to wonder why my parents and their friends went into moments of joy whenever they heard big-band tunes like “String of Pearls” or “Sing, Sing, Sing”. I like them too. Music in my generation included rock-n-roll, the British invasion, folk music and protest songs. The point here is that each generation has its own favorite music.

Church worship hymns span the decades. When I hear “The Church’s One Foundation”, I am reminded of the small churches where I grew up. Hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy” take me back to any of the four congregations I was privileged to pastor. When it comes to the holidays, the seven days of Easter Week have their own handful of memory hymns which no yearly commemoration can do without. Hymns like these have connected worshipping congregations for hundreds of years. They are passed down from grandparents to grandchildren. Each hymn tells a part of the story about Jesus Christ. We learn them during our grade school days and carry them along from season to season without ever needing to look at the words in our hymnals.

Hopefully more of us will be able to gather in church during this Easter season. Remember, each spring we are obligated to remember Christ and let the joy of the music touch our hearts.

“According to survey data, there are more than three times the number of self-identifying conservation congregations in the U.S. than liberal churches. Conservatives make up nearly half of the nation’s churches, 15% identify as liberal… and 39% report they stand in the middle of the political spectrum…Black Protestants have taken the lead in reviving the liberal traditions of Christianity.”
Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 2021 p. 11

Worry: Thinking About the Future

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“I was glad and rejoiced in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.” “Do not be anxious about anything, but with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Psalm 31:7 NIV) (Philippians 4-6 NIV)

I have always been a world class worrier. All ministers worry; that’s their job. Some clergy worry more than others. Parents also worry about where their children are and how things are going for them.

Perhaps things aren’t so nice in the area where children are growing up. Most mothers think they have a life-time privilege to be concerned for their children.

As I grew up, I developed an appreciation for the strength of my mother’s faith. It puzzled me that a woman who believed so much could worry so much. One day I asked her about her habit of worry. She replied “I believe God worries too, about us. Jesus worried. He wept. When I worry, I feel closer to him. It’s like we worry on the same problem together.

Praying goes along with worry. How can you love and not worry? Mom handled her worry by making it a spiritual exercise, a way to grow closer to the God she knew protected her. Worry was not just a form of prayer, but a form of love. If we can’t be spared from a worry or two especially for ourselves of the people whom we love, please, dear Lord, let our worries draw us closer to You.

“America has military and economic strength, Bic Macs and Hollywood movies from a political culture rooted in individual rights, freedom of expression, fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power, as well is rule of law.” Christian Science Monitor Jan, 25, 2021 pg.6.

Facing Problems Head-On

by Rev Robert A Wendel

“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1 “Do not worry about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” Philippians 4:6.

Looking through my life of sermon illustrations, I read the following story. An old cowboy remembered “Hereford cattle taught me an important lesson. Winter storms took a heavy toll on the herds. Strong winds piled show into huge drifts. Most of the herd would turn their backs into the icy blasts. Herefords, however, would face the winds head-on and survive the season, teaching us humans to have courage to face life’s problems directly.”

Many people think living would be better if they had fewer problems. It’s easy to think of a place where no one has problems – the cemetery. Problems are a sign of life. I would risk saying that the more problems you have, the more alive you are. We might as well face the hard cold fact that you and I will have setbacks until we die. The story of Job says “Men (and women) are born into trouble.” (Job 5:7). The Gospel of John relates “In the world we will have tribulation.” (John 16:33).

The Bible also says “Be of good cheer! I have overcome the world.” This is what you and I can do. I want to assure you that we need fear no problems on earth, but with God’s help we can overcome them, however formidable they may appear to be. So don’t fear a problem – solve it. A psychologist is reported to have said “The chief duty of a human being is to endure life”

My father broke his arm when he was a teenager. To save his arm, doctors inserted a silver plate which pained him the rest of his life. To provide an example for his six children, he lived above his own circumstances, never letting on about his chronic discomfort. No matter the setbacks, he lived a meaningful life, regardless of his boyhood affliction. He mastered his personal problem, until his death at age 53 from cancer.

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale advised, “Never give up. Keep at it. Keep praying. Keep believing. Keep thinking until the answer comes. “Remember, the darkest hour is often just before the dawn.”

Christmas: A Season of Hope

by Rev Robert A Wendel

If we walk in the light as He himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you. (I John 1:7, Ephesians 1:18).

Every single year the season of Christmas comes slowly upon us. One of the joys of the season is to see holiday displays of many types. Before my 10th birthday I remember making the one hour trip to Pittsburgh to see store window displays and the large city Christmas tree. Much, much later, I enjoyed witnessing seasonal activities in Bethlehem, Pa. and, of course, there were the Christmas Eve services in the churches I pastored. All of these experiencers involved lights. An undercurrent of hope stretched throughout December.

One Christmas tradition has been decorating the family Christmas tree. This custom began in England during the reign of Queen Victoria. One Christmas tree that I easily remember was the aluminum Christmas tree lit by a floor lamp during my teenage years. Another tree was the sanctuary tree formed by poinsettias in the church in Beckley. One drawback was coaxing families to retrieve their poinsettia when the season was over. These customs and traditions form a chain of memory in any Christian’s life.

During the season we celebrate how Almighty God allowed His Son to become a vulnerable child. May the Lord help us to see Him without distraction. “Open our eyes, so that we may behold wondrous things!” (Psalm 119:18).

“God of Hope, help me to be sensitive to those who mourn during the holy, holiday season. Let me speak a word or do a deed or share a tear that point to joy found in you. (Penney Schwab)

Greetings from Rev Wendell

“Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ that you will be enriched in every way for your great generosity which will produce thanksgiving to God.” (1Thessalonians 5:18, 2 Corinthians 9:11 RSV).

I grew up in the age of “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It to Beaver”, which we watched on a black and white television set. So, I am no spring chicken. This realization hit when I began experiencing a series of minor physical setbacks. Much to my dismay, my body is less than it once was. I remember thinking about physical decline while watching games by aging major league baseball stars.

Still, I easily recall events in American history which have made their way into classroom textbooks. 2020 has been a rough year for most of us what with the virus, economic stress, school rearrangements, professional sports at half speed with a whole new set of social recommendations – all in a national election season.

Yet, there have been other years when life seemed on the downswing. Like the year when I graduated from high school in 1968 which included riots in the streets over the Viet Nam war and a pair of assassinations. In 1863 when the country was “engaged in a great Civil War”, to help lift the mood and spirit of the people, President Lincoln declared “that the fourth Thursday of November shall be a day of national Thanksgiving.” Many folks this year may not travel far from their homes to celebrate, choosing to safeguard their health first and foremost.

No matter how these days run their course, you and I have much to praise the Lord for again, hoping much will improve in the months ahead. Enjoy the holiday in small gatherings. Take off your mask while you’re at the table.

Debbie Macomber wrote in Guideposts “Lord, no matter how much change I encounter in my life, You are my constant unchanging source of joy and strength. “

Prayer and Praise: Reaching for God

by Rev Robert A Wendel

Psalm 92:2, 34:1, 121:2, 93:3, 22:34 “Praise the Lord Ye that fear Him. They shall declare His righteousness unto a people that shall be born. One shall receive a blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his Salvation. (Geneva Bible).

I’ve had a life-time of learning to strike a fair balance between helping and supporting others and receiving the same from family, co-workers or friends. I easily remember being reminded that I should express my thankfulness more often,

During my Boy Scout days, I remember how the troop would fashion a crude wooden cross and have a short time of evening vespers prayer before we bedded down for the night at the campsite. We formed a circle, everyone got themselves calm, the scoutmaster offered a short meditation and together we sang the chorus “Day is Done, Gone the Sun.” It had been a good day.

In my later work as a church pastor, I often reminded myself that the best beginning of any prayer is to be thankful. Of course, we all have daily needs. But God also listens for our praise. Prayer was a regular exercise said before supper each night and as we six kids settled into bed each evening. Our simple supper grace was “We thank Thee God for the food upon our table. Amen.” We recited the bedtime prayer which begins “Now I lay me down to sleep….” First used in 1711. The general purpose of any prayer is to help us to connect with our Maker in a public or private way. There is no more encouraging habit.

During my grade school days, each weekday began with the pledge to the American flag, a brief Bible reading and the class saying the Lord’s Prayer. By Junior High School, such a routine was halted as unconstitutional, replaced by a brief silent prayer. Yet, still today, a chaplain or clergyperson opens each session of the U.S. House and Senate with prayer.

There are occasional events such as weddings, funerals and holiday observances along with school activities which punctuate our lives. Prayer is the spiritual glue.

“The same loving hand that created you and me. If He is your Father, he must be my Father too. We all belong to the same human family. Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Christians. All people are children of God.” Mother Teresa.

Bible Lessons in the Kitchen: Leaning on the Word

by Rev Robert A Wendel

God is our refuse and strength. If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me. A river of streams make glad the city of God, welling up to eternal life. Christ is an over-flowing fountain, supplying his people. Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on the law, day and night. Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46).

There is a process which every Christian must experience to arrive at a good level of maturity. This is spiritual growth developed over the span of a whole lifetime by Bible reading, prayer and regular community worship.

My family all gladly attended Sunday worship and ate dinner together at 1:00 p.m. Dad often showed me how to understand portions of the Bible while we two sat at the post dinner kitchen table. We often looked at the scriptures mentioned in the Sunday sermon. I remember during the meal each of us six kids was asked “What did the preacher preach about this morning?”

I am deeply saddened to know that too many of today’s folks don’t take time to increase their understanding of the Bible within the family circle. The Christian scripture forms the basis of our personal morality and community living. In every disruption, daily frustration or uncomfortable situation God is our strength and a very present help. He never leaves us. In fact, He keeps us going. When our lives seem to fall, He lifts us up!

God desires a personal relationship with each of us. And so, I sincerely seek Him in prayer, by reading the Bible and being present in regular worship and congregational business sessions, listening for the Lord’s voice.

On the morning of his funeral New York Times published a message from U.S. Rep. John Lewis. He wrote that “When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and power of everlasting love be your guide.”