A few times a year,  Pastor Mark is away on the week ends.  St. Paul's is truly blessed to have a number of very gifted people who are willing to cover for him at both the Saturday evening and Sunday morning services.  Listed below are some of the sermons that have been given by these people.  Thank you all for the time and preparation that goes each one of these messages.  God bless you all!

 

Sermon delivered by Dan Gilman..........9/28/14

Readings: Ezek. 18:1-4, 25-32, Psalm 25:1-9, Phil. 2:1-13, Matt. 21:23-32

 Prayer: Father we thank you for the gift of vision; vision with our hearts and vision with our minds.  Help us Father to tune the vision we have of ourselves and of each other to the way you see us.  And then help us to love each other as your son so loves us, in His name we pray, Amen. 

I need to premise this message with a qualifier.  This message today is directed towards my Christian brothers and sisters.  If you’re still seeking but haven’t made up your mind yet, then this message isn’t directed at you and you’re totally off the hook.  If you are seeking and want more information after church, I can certainly get you answers to your questions.  That said… 

The readings for this week are pretty convicting.  And they should be.  With all the studying and praying and singing and sharing we do in our efforts to connect with God, after 2014 years we’re still struggling to love ourselves, love each other, and love God, to the level God taught us to.  If you question that, just look at how fractured our world is.  Look at how divided our country is.  Look at the frailty of the family unit today, even the frailty of our church. 

After that first question that we read in Ezekiel, what type of tone did you hear?  What does verse 18:3 really mean when it says; 

 3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me.    

I tell you what I hear; I hear God saying “who do you think you are putting words in my mouth?”   Maybe that’s why today’s OT reading jumps from verse 4 all the way down to verse 25 where it says: 

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? 

With a show of hands, how many people here think the Lord’s ways are unjust?  Come on?  Aren’t there innocent children suffering and dying in cancer wards all over the country?  Aren’t innocent women being raped and sold as slaves by ISIS as we speak?  How about closer to home?  Is there any shortage of concerns on this church’s prayer list?  Can anyone tell me why there is so much evil in the world?  And what is God doing about it?  Isn’t any of this proof that the Lord’s ways are unjust?  I can tell you, with no harmful intent, that if we think God is unjust, then we don’t really know God, and we don’t know enough about God either.  

Before I continue, I think it only fair I explain the confusion the Israelites were having about how God doles out his justice.  The proverb that God was talking about traces all the way back to the 2nd Commandment (Exod 20:4-6): 

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.  

Reading that commandment you can see where they got the idea that a child will pay for a parent’s sin.  And in a very real sense, they typically do.  Often times we find that abusive parents were themselves raised in abusive households.  If the parents are both alcoholics, there’s a very high probability that the children will become alcoholics as well.  I heard it said just this past week in a sermon that no one sins in a vacuum.  The consequences of our sins always bleed out into the lives of those around us. 

But we see in other parts of scripture that this isn’t always the case.  And an important rule for Christianity is that scripture can never contradict itself.  If we look at either Kings 2 or Chronicles 2, we see Hezekiah was a good king, but his son Manasseh was evil, and so was Manasseh’s son Amon.  But then Amon’s son Josiah was a very good king.  Unfortunately, from there Judah’s kings went downhill and eventually Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians.  

But as we read these biblical narratives, we see that God dealt justly with each king individually, even as the punishment did carry on to the third and fourth generation of the kings who hated God.  So what does the second commandment mean?  I think God was warning all parents that not putting Him first in their lives will cause real risk to the spiritual health of their children.  A quick test for us here is, do our children put God first, above everything in their lives, because if they don’t, then maybe we don’t either.  And if they don’t, what are the chances that our grandchildren or great grandchildren will?  I think we need to pray about that.   

Also, maybe God was warning Israel that hate typically takes more than one generation to kill off and God was telling them up front to guard their hearts against the poison of hate, especially against Him, the God who loved them and promised to look out for them.

Now back to our readings and the question of God’s justice.  I really love Psalm 25.  One of my favorite songs of all time is the band Third Day’s rendition of this psalm entitled “My Hope is You”.  In it the singer is confessing something we all need to confess.  He says:

I am, O Lord, filled with Your love.  You are, O God, my salvation
guard my life and rescue me, My broken spirit shouts
My mended heart cries out. My Hope is You

I think it’s worth re-reading verse 7 because the crux of God’s justice is hidden in there.  It says:   Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; (but) according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.”

The awesome truth of the matter is that God doesn’t see us like we see us.  Don’t get me wrong, like it says there, the Lord God is good and we are bad. But the Father only sees us through the lens of his son Jesus.  God doesn’t dwell on all our failures and insecurities like we do.  And we are certainly not encouraged by his word to dwell on the failures of others as we too often do.  Thank God he’s not a gossipy, spiteful, bitter God that is slow to forgive and quick to convict. 

You see, He doesn’t remember us as sinners because Jesus paid 100% of the price for us.  When God thinks of you and me, he thinks of righteous children who he loves immensely.  So again I’ll bring the question back.  Is it God’s fault that our world is so screwed up?  Is it his fault that our country is so strictly divided.  Is He the reason divorce is so prevalent in our culture and families are so fractured, even church families?  Are God’s ways unjust? Isn’t it our ways that are unjust?

If Jesus were here today, what do you think he would say to us?  Based on what we read in Philippians, my guess is it would go something like this: 

“If you have any encouragement from being united with me, if you find any comfort from my love, if there is true sharing in the Spirit and you feel my tenderness and compassion, then be like-minded, having that same love, being with me in spirit, thinking like I think.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

 Remember that I died for every one of you so that you can be free to live like me, the way I showed you over 2000 years ago.  I already paid the price so you can have a better world.  What are you waiting for?

Don’t just eat bread and drink wine and claim to remember me.  Love others, and while you’re at it, love yourself.  Lift each other up, protect each other and encourage each other in the faith.  It is things such as these that bring me glory.  Do these things to remember me.”

Pause here for a moment

Are God’s ways unjust?  Is it not our ways that are unjust?  As adopted children of God are we going to be like the first son or the second son we read about in Matthew?  Are we going to come to church every Sunday as if to say “yes father, I will go”, but then leave from this place and live secular lives as if Jesus never died to set us free to both live and love at a much higher level?

What good is our faith if we don’t bother using it to glorify God?  And how can we use it if we fail to live by the Spirit of God which is available to every one of us here if we would only open our hearts in humility?   I think we’ve played the second son long enough.   Let’s stop giving God lip service on Sundays and acting like church is just a Sunday thing.  Real Christianity is an “every second of every day; every breath, every motion, complete conversion of life” thing.

We are all called to be the first son in that story.  More than that, we are all called to be like Esther, representing God out there in a godless culture.  God put us here today, in this place for such a time as this. 

If you aren’t convicted by the Spirit right now then you need to go home, look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I really a Christian?”  Maybe you’ve never felt the power of the Holy Spirit in your walk.  If you’ve never felt the power of the Holy Spirit and would like to pray for it, I’ll be glad to pray with anyone after the service.  We all need the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Christ in us, to live out our faith in this world.  We will fail without it.     

I don’t mean to scare anyone or offend anyone, but God brought me here; He brought us here to move the front line forward.  He loves every one of us so much more than we can ever comprehend.  We all need to truly believe that, and cling tightly to that truth, especially in these days.

But make no mistake; we are only here on this earth for his glory.  And I say it’s past time we bring it to him!       

 

 The Readings:

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:  “‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?  3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.

25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? 26 If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. 27 But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. 28 Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. 29 Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust? 30 “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

Psalm 25:1-9

1 In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.

2 I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.

3 No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those

    who are treacherous without cause.

4 Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.

5 Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior,

    and my hope is in you all day long.

6 Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

7 Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.

8 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.

9 He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

Phillipians 2:1-13

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing     by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—        even death on a cross!  9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,     in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Matthew 21:23-32

23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”  24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”  27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”  Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’  29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.  30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.  31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”  “The first,” they answered.  Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.      

 

A sermon delivered by our very own, Nancy Paul....... 12/2013

Let us pray ~   Holy Father, on this First Sunday of Christmas, as we continue to celebrate the Word made flesh, remind us of the purpose you had in sending us your Son.  Help us to follow through with the Church’s purpose, and our role, in Your divine plan.  In Jesus name, Amen

The Peace of the Lord Be With You!

I always look forward to sharing God’s peace during the church service. My brother was here at the Christmas Eve service and when it came time to share the peace he was expecting to shake hands with just the folks in front, in back and to the side of his seat.  Well, not here at St. Paul’s, we literally love to leave our pews and connect with everyone we can.   It actively involves everyone here, of every age, offering a prayer of spiritual healing and reconciliation to one another. For me, this simple act really connects me to all of you and when visiting other churches, it immediately makes me feel welcome and a part of the worship service. 

When Pastor asked me if I would give the Sermon just a week ago, he was so encouraging and enthusiastic. I thought I was shaking my head no but heard my mouth say ok.  However, he then gave me the text for today and said he had all kinds of reading he could give me, but I reminded him it was Christmas week, and I was having my brother and family visiting and hosting two dinners, so was it ok to just revise my talk I gave at Tres Dias a month and a half ago. So that is why today’s sermon is about the Church. 

This past summer I read a wonderful book called Wholehearted: Three Life-Changing Commands of Jesus by Roger Wernette.1  In one of the chapters, the author recounts a story he heard at the end of a sermon at a church in Houston many years ago.   A young boy had wandered away from his home and became lost.  He soon saw a police officer and went to him for help.  The policeman asked the boy if he knew his address – he did not.  The policeman then asked the boy if he knew what his house looked like, or maybe what cars might be in the driveway.  The boy did not know.  Suddenly the boy remembered something.  He said that behind his house was a church with a steeple and on that steeple was a cross.  He asked the policeman to lift him up high.  He said, “If I can find that cross I will be able to find my way home”.

 It is so easy for all of us to feel lost in this dark world we live in. We read about the slaughter of the children in today’s Gospel, and here 2000 yrs later, it was just over a year ago when those innocent little ones were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School along with some teachers and their principal.  YES, Our world is dark and broken - a world filled with sin and death.   It seems we are always reading about talk of yet another war, of terrible injustice, and of hatred. We feel the effects of greed and selfishness every day.  We see others, and even ourselves, suffering from disease, natural disasters, unemployment, homelessness, and hunger.  But along with these physical evils and suffering, our society in particular, suffers from what Mother Theresa has described as spiritual poverty.  There are so many people around us who do not believe in God, who do not pray, who have lost hope and easily give in to despair and temptation. Some say they are Christian but feel they don’t need a church to worship the Lord - that their faith is a private matter between them and God.  But I doubt that God has a cell phone or probably would not text, even if he did.

It seems with all our advances in technology our world is losing that personal contact with each other and with God.  So how do we fix all of this?     We can’t but JESUS CAN.  

God did not stop the injustice in Bethlehem or Newton, however the evil that exists in our world can not stop God’s ultimate plan for everlasting justice and peace.

Through God’s Grace, a light was sent into this dark world in His Son, Jesus Christ.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”.  Jesus gives us His peace, for He does not give to us as the world gives. He tells us not to let our hearts be troubled and not to be afraid.

So like that little boy, let’s find our way home and follow that cross to the church.  For it is in the church we find hope, for its mission is to make Christ known to the world, to shine His light into the darkness.

  One of my early memories of going to Sunday School as a child was learning the rhyme and finger play that goes – Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.   The only trouble was, I had such a hard time lacing my fingers correctly that my church never seemed to have any people.  But without people there can be no church.

The New Testament describes the church in 1Corinthians as the Body of Christ and each of us is a part of it.  The church is a community of believers, united in Peter’s confession of faith in the Gospel of Matthew, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”.  And Jesus responded by saying “and it’s on this rock I will build my church.” So the church belongs to God who “placed all things under Christ’s feet and appointed him to be the head over everything for the church, which is His body...”

The Church is both spiritual and earthly. It is the universal church, the worldwide Body of Christ- a communion of saints both living and dead. In the Apostle’s Creed we say, “I believe in the whole catholic church”. Pastor has taught us this word catholic, with a small “c,” means the universal Christian church. Its mission is to reveal Christ to the world which is accomplished through the earthly church, the church particular. This is our home church, the local body of Christ assembling right here at St. Paul’s. It’s our church with the steeple and those beautiful bells, filled with people, God’s people.

 Most churches have a mission statement; some are as succinct as, “To know Christ and to make Christ known”.  So it is up to the people of the church, both clergy and laity, to fulfill this mission of the church.  A healthy anatomy of the body of Christ is described in Ephesians 4:11: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God…”

 The clergy, or Pastor, is the shepherd who leads us in worship and prayer, who preaches and teaches the Word of God, who reveals God’s grace through the sacraments, and guides his flock to do the work God calls them to do.

The laity, the flock, supports the clergy and works as active disciples using their unique gifts to serve God.  Both Pastors and laity need to support one another and lift each other up in partnership.  A partnership that must share in seeking God’s will in the work they do in His church and in the world.   We are to love, pray, worship, study, serve, teach and admonish in love as we seek to grow the body of Christ by uniting all in His love.

 What is our role, as lay people, in Christ’s church?    We are to obey God’s Call and Commands, and dedicate ourselves to the Commitment and Community of the body of Christ.  You can think of these as the 4 C’s.

The Call

In Baptism we become Children of God.  As we grow in knowledge and understanding and come to confess our faith in Jesus Christ, we are called to be his disciples, his students.  In both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus calls to Simon Peter and his brother Andrew and says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  Once we understand who Jesus is, as Peter did, how can we not want to know Him?, and to build a relationship with Him?.  Jesus provided for His continued teaching by establishing His church.  It is within this body where we will learn about God’s grace and deepen our relationship with Christ.  In other words, we are called to church, to grow in faith by hearing the Word preached and taught by someone called by God and with knowledge of the Bible, to receive the sacraments, and to be reminded of who we are and why Christ died for us.  One of God’s Commandments is “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Ex 20:8).  For Christians, Pastor has taught us that each Sunday morning is like a mini Easter, a day that we should celebrate our risen Lord with worship, song, prayer, and fellowship with other believers. So, listen for those church bells calling us to church.

 The Command

Jesus told us in Mark 12:30 that the greatest commandment was to    “Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”    As we grow in our love for God, we become compelled to obey all that He commands.  That’s a pretty heavy load but we freely take it on out of love and through God’s grace.   Before ascending into heaven, Jesus says to his disciples in Matthew 28:18, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  This is the Great Commission of our Lord.  It is a command for both clergy and laity.  It is only within the church that a pastor baptizes and teaches all that Christ commands, thus equipping the worshippers to grow in maturity, to become God’s voice and compassion, God’s hands and feet. We are Christians, meaning Christ Ones.  Through God’s grace, we are empowered to make visible God’s love in Jesus Christ in every situation and circumstance – at work, at home with our family, in the world with our friends and with strangers.  We are to be His agents, so that others may witness our faith and be drawn to Him.  Even in today’s Gospel, God shows us his interest in the Gentiles, when the Magi came from far lands to be the first to worship our Lord.  Even the most pagan of pagans will respond to Jesus if given the opportunity.  God sent his Son for all people. Out of Egypt, Moses freed the Israelites from slavery and our Lord Jesus freed all people from sin.   Jesus is counting on the church to spread the Word.

 The Commitment

As we continue to grow in our love for God we become dedicated members of the Body of Christ in our commitment to the Church – to be active in the world for Christ’s sake.  God will build His church and equip us to the task to which He has called us. As members of the Body we each have a unique gift to use in ministry with the church.  God gives each of us a purpose within the church. Paul says in Romans 12:6 “We have different gifts according to the grace given us.”    In our love for Christ, we are to support our church mission with our time, talents, and treasures.  We must strive to be our best for Christ, fulfilling God’s will for the church.  In a book called The Body; Being Light in Darkness, Charles Colson states “Our commitment to the church is indistinguishable from our commitment to Christ.” 2  As strong as that statement is, THIS is  something that should naturally flow from our hearts as we grow in our love for Christ.

 The Community

 Jesus gives us a new command in John 13:34 - “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  So our devotion and love is naturally given to the community itself, our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.  Being part of a Christian community is an essential part of living a Christian life.  This community supports us in our daily walk with Jesus.  It supports us in our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, as we work and worship. In 1Cor. 12:24 Paul writes “ … God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.   If one part suffers, every part suffers with it, if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”  It is within this community that we hold each other accountable and hold each other up when we can’t stand up alone.  And I have also discovered that by being in communion with fellow believers, we discover the gifts that God gives us to serve Him and to serve one another in love, both within our church and in the world.

 I love this church family.  I started attending St. Paul’s about 25 years ago. I actually first came here when Wayne and I were invited to his cousin’s wedding.  We had recently moved from Poughkeepsie to Hyde Park and I was excited to find a Lutheran Church only 10 min from my house.  Megan was soon born in 1989 and she was baptized here.   When both Bryan and Megan were young, I taught Sunday School, and eventually became the Sunday School Superintendent for many years. It was really a natural way for me to support the church, being a fifth grade teacher.  However, the year before I was to retire from teaching, most of you know that my husband, Wayne, was diagnosed with brain cancer.  One of my first responses was to ask you all to start praying.  And pray you did.  This amazing church family held my family up throughout Wayne’s entire fight.  My husband was brought up Catholic but did not practice his faith.  He only attended St. Paul’s with me a few times a year.  Well, God certainly got his attention and mine too! This church welcomed him with open arms and Wayne came to church with me every week when he was able. Pastor Mark made it ok for Wayne to receive Communion after way too many years of him not thinking he could.  And just 2 months before he passed away, this amazing congregation honored Wayne in a special Veteran’s Day worship service with a tribute put together by our dear Val, recognizing and thanking him for his time served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. There was just so much love.  What gifts all these things were to Wayne and our family. 

 During the 2 ½ years that Wayne fought his battle, the two of us grew in faith together. By being present at Sunday worship, praying and reading the Bible together, being visited by Pastor, Linda and other friends from church, both Wayne and I deepened our relationship with God. You all did so much for us, raking leaves, sending cards and food, or just being there if we needed someone to talk to, not to mention all the prayers we felt all the time.  We truly felt God’s love and grace through all of you and I will be forever grateful.

 During Wayne’s treatment I started to re-teach myself how to knit and crochet.  I remembered comforting myself with a crocheted blanket in the hospital after Wayne’s brain surgery.  One day, while in Michael’s buying more yarn, (you have to know that a knitter or crochet-er can never have enough yarn!!), I saw a book about prayer shawls. About a month later, at our women’s retreat at Mount St. Alphonsus, someone mentioned something about a prayer shawl ministry and suddenly God was speaking to me!   I started our churches prayer shawl ministry within the year by making my first prayer shawl for Wayne, which was blessed by Pastor and many of you.  I started teaching others how to crochet, and soon several of you began working on prayer shawls.  After a year, the church dedicated our prayer shawl ministry with 20 more shawls. It was and still is an amazing blessing for all the knitters, crochet-ers, and pray-ers, not to mention the many recipients of our shawls; our own members,  family and friends throughout our community and the country, and even one wrapped around a special medical missionary in the Dominican Republic.   

It’s hard to believe that Wayne died 4 yrs ago last Sunday and 4 yrs ago today I was standing up here saying good-by to him at his funeral. Even though I miss him everyday, I know he is with Christ and Christ is with me.   God has blessed me in so many ways ~ through my growing faith in Jesus and all that He promises, through opportunities like visiting the Holy Lands and being involved with Tres Dias, through all that Pastor teaches, through my loving family and friends, and how this church, all of you, were there for us, for me, holding me up.  I just can’t ever imagine my life without a church – this wonderful body of Christ.

 The church is another gift from God, an instrument of His grace, to be used for His purpose.  Our local churches are the visible units that enable God’s army to do the job it is called to do, to bring light into the darkness of the world.  Jesus says in John 14:12, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father”.  So it is with God’s empowerment that we are to finish what Jesus started during His earthly ministry, to glorify God in all things, and point to the presence and coming of the Kingdom of God.  

 In my reading I came upon a quote by Rev. Ernest Southcott, a 20th century Anglican priest and author.  He said that he felt “the holiest moment of the church service is the moment when God’s people, strengthened by Word and sacrament, go out of the church door, into the world, to be the Church.  We don’t go to church.  We are the Church.” 3

Through Gods love for us and our love for Him, we are compelled to obey all that He commands. The church is more than just a collection of people, it is a new society created by God to reveal Jesus to the world.  We are the Church and our mission is clear.

AMEN

 

 

 


 January 13, 2013       By Dan Gilman

 1st reading: Isaiah 62:1-5 ,   Psalm :  36:5-10,    Second reading: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11,   Gospel: John 2:1-11

 Prayer:

Father God, as you used your son to bring love to the world, help us follow his lead and bring others to him so they will know your love as well.  In Jesus’ name we pray, amen!

 As I read through these readings for today, searching for the common message and studying each passage in its context, it occurred to me that each reading provides light and hope in the midst of fear and doubt.  In the first reading, Isaiah reaches forward roughly 50 years to give hope to a generation not yet born but destined for exile.  The psalm, if read in its entirety, explains how evil the heart of man is, and how powerful God’s love and righteousness is to overcome that evil.  Paul’s 1st letter to Corinth was written to rebuke the church there for their divisiveness and lead them back to unity through Christ.  And even in this wedding story, only found in the Gospel of John, we can sense apprehension from Jesus himself when he didn’t want to get wrapped up in a wine shortage problem.  Yet, out of respect for his mother and the host, he not only helped them find more wine, but he blessed them with free, high quality wine and the miracle that brought it.  That’s what I call a wedding gift!

 But hope in the midst of doubt and fear is a secondary result of what’s truly going on here.  There is a deeper truth that strings itself through these verses today and it’s one that should bring us not only hope but joy, peace, courage and strength as well.  And that truth is in the fact that when we turn from ourselves and the ways of this world and we turn back to the God who created us, we have an opportunity to be made new again.  Here hidden in these verses is a call; a call to return to God in our hearts and minds and souls.  It’s a call to come back from the exile of the sinful world around us and be renewed with a new spirit, and the call continues to be an urgent one.

 I’m going to re-read Isaiah 62, verse 1 so we can get a sense of the frustration and raw zeal of this mighty man of God.

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn and her salvation like a burning torch”.   You see, Isaiah knew the Jewish nation was specifically and intentionally set apart by God to be a light to the world.  He knew Jerusalem was to be a city on a hill, not just in elevation but in spirit and in truth.  People of all nations were supposed to be drawn to God through this place and these people.  That was their original intent; and yet, he already sees their hearts exiled from God and their city desolate in spirit.  It’s hard to tell for sure but these words the prophet spoke could have come on the heels of the fall of the Northern Kingdom.  Isaiah was only a third of the way through his ministry when Israel fell to the Assyrians in the north and now he sees Judah going down the same path.   His heart was where it was supposed to be, - with God.  But Judah had turned away and refused to listen. 

How tragic it is to see those we love going the wrong way in life and refusing to turn around, especially when we know God has plans for them based on the potential he blessed them with.  Yet one thing we can take away from Isaiah is the truth that God allows some to be exiled so that they learn what’s important and return to us and to him with less pride and more humility.  His spirit encourages us today to hold on to that truth because there is hope in it.  As the psalm says, God’s love reaches to the heavens.  His righteousness is as strong as the mountains and his justice runs deeper than any ocean.  Those are great things to remember.  Yes, he holds judgment and we are all accountable for our sins, but we need to remember that, like Psalm 36, verse 9 says, he is the well of life and if we keep him close we will see the light and know how to go because he himself will lead us back out of the darkness of our sins.

 God desperately wants us back.  The entire Holy Bible is like one big love letter calling us back to him.  Once we make that first step and turn back to him, he makes us new and blesses us immensely with gifts to not only make it home, but to also share his love and his truth in this world.  Paul assures us through his letter to the Corinthian church that God will give each and every one of us gifts tailored to what our hearts and minds can handle as we mature in faith.  Wisdom, confidence, knowledge of the word, healing and discernment are some of the most common gifts we receive when we actively pursue the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.  Some can also speak in tongues or interpret those who do; some may even have the gift of prophesy.  The Holy Spirit, just like the Father, wants to bless us and give us these gifts.  And Paul makes it clear that no real gifts are given except through the Spirit, and not one of them is more important, or to be regarded higher than the others.  All are of God and all are equally important to grow our faith and spread his love.

Now, I’ll take a minute to remind ourselves the difference between gifts of the Spirit and fruits of the Spirit.  The gifts Paul mentions are tools we use to build the faith of the church and fruits are what we get when we use those tools properly.  Galatians 5:22 lists nine fruits we are blessed with; Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control.  These are blessings to us and we honor God when we share these fruits of the Spirit.  But they are not to be used as tools like the gifts are.  And I’ll say another very important thing about the gifts of the Spirit.  Without love, they’re useless.  You’ll find that in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians between verses 1 and 3.   And as a tie in to the Gospel I’d like to share with you 1 Corinthians 13, verses 11 and 12.  It says: “When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”. 

 Before we can experience that eternal growth, that face to face fullness of knowing God in Heaven, Jesus has to change us now, in this life.  He wants to make us new today so we’ll be prepared for that eternity.  But for him to be able to do that, we need to move our walk from childhood to maturity.  We can believe like children and have a dependence on God like children depend on their parents, but we must pick up our cross and follow Christ as adults.

 What Jesus did at the wedding in Cana was a miraculous beginning to a ministry of renewal.  He took an ordinary element like water and transformed it into a new batch of fine wine.  Now anyone who drinks wine will tell you that older is better.  But here, Jesus infused his ageless presence into this water and immediately made perfectly aged wine.  For me that’s always the most amazing aspect of miracles, that they seem to transcend time.  The thought of God and his perception of time reminded me of a goofy folk song I heard once.  It’s called “The Offering Song” and the words go like this; 

 So the man said to God what’s a million years to you?

And God said a second!

Then the man said to God; what’s a million dollars too?

And God said a penny!

Then the man said to God will you give me a penny?

And God said sure you’ll just have to wait a second!

 Ok, that’s enough of that.  The point here is just like that earthly element of water which our bodies are over 50% of, Jesus wants to change us into something new and exciting and desirable to others, just like that miraculous batch of wine was.  Jesus makes all things new.  He is the well of life that turns sickness into health and pain into joy, resentment into forgiveness, and hate into love.   He takes our hearts from an earthly exiled place of death and brings us home into a new house where we get gifts of the Spirit and enjoy the fruits of those gifts.

 The last verse we have here in John 2:11 is this; “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him”.    You’ve probably heard it said that there are miracles all around us every day if we only choose to open our eyes to them, and I suppose that’s right.  The birth of a child, the growth of a garden, the majesty of a forest or the unstoppable power of nature, the awesome design of the universe; or just the simple fact that you woke up again today and have the mental and physical health to make here to church today.  These are all miracles in their own right and any one of them is a good argument for the existence of a loving God and I’m sure the disciples knew that much.

 But we have something better than the disciples had.  We have over 2000 years of historical, archeological, cultural and intuitive evidence that Jesus Christ is who he says he is, did what is written about him, and will do what he promised us he’ll do.  But it has to start with us.  The time is urgent.  At this point, not only do we need to turn back to God but we need to help as many others as we can to turn back as well.  Our families, our friends, our co-workers are all in the same boat as us, and many of them either don’t know, or don’t know they don’t know, or don’t really care.  Make it a point this week to speak to, write, tweet, facebook or whatever you do to share the truth of Jesus with someone you know who needs to hear.  Don’t worry about the result; that’s on the Holy Spirit.   Our job is simply to share the gospel.  And truth be told…that’s nothing new!

           

LAY SERMON – July 22, 2012–                                                                                                 THROUGH GOD’S EYES                                                                                                                         Jim Jeffreys, President Church Council

LET US PRAY.....Dear Lord, please accept our prayers today for all the families affected by the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, please help us as we struggle to understand why and especially give peace and comfort to the victims and their families. In Jesus name we pray…AMEN.

In today’s reading in Mark (6:30-34, 53-56) though Jesus implores his apostles to go to a deserted place and rest after their relentless effort to spread his good news, as he approaches the shore and sees the crowd that had hurried on ahead of them, still motivated to hear his words, he relents and continues teaching.  We are guided in these readings, as we have been in many readings before, to take time to reflect on our endeavors, to take pride in the work that we have accomplished and to celebrate the success we have earned. But, taking time to celebrate success is never an excuse to avoid productive labor when an opportunity presents itself. In short, get off your butt; roll up your sleeves and go to work!

While our lives may often leave us similarly tired and feeling chaotic we must follow the example set by our good shepherd, and never give up the effort to share the good news with those we love. For those of us who’s friends and family have strayed from the Church or report that their lives are “too busy” to seek the peace and humility of, at least, weekly devotion it is our job to bring them home. Spreading the good news does not (always) mean reciting the bible; it encompasses all that the bible teaches.  We should use what we learn from hearing the Gospel to inspire others to live in a manner that is consistent with the teachings of Jesus. 

We’ve often heard “where there is a will there is a way.” But, did you know where that came from?  It too was based on a bible verse from Galatians (6:7): "for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" and understanding that verse we should all treat people the way we would like to be treated and “live our lives” in a way that allows us to reap the benefits of a Christian life.  To do so would give great meaning to the last line of the 23rd Psalm: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.” 

Having fallen short of God’s grace we are clearly not perfect, but if we strive to follow his teaching our personal aspirations will be cradled in God’s hands and with him holding them we can achievegreat things…especially here at St. Paul’s! We are blessed to see our country Pastor bring God’s word to thousands of spiritually hungry India Christians - and in turn reaffirm his own faith.  We are blessed with Peter & Helen’s resolve to help support a Kenyan mission and improve the lives of people half a world away.  We are blessed to see Jenna rally others to help Aynsley with her cancer treatments and folks like Pam & Ron respond and then are overwhelmed by the outpouring of generosity and support of the community. 

We are blessed when the many prayers of the faithful are answered and Joe has a marvelous recovery and music again fills the air of our Church.  We are blessed by Nancy’s evangelism and her introduction of Rachel Snider and her medical mission to Jarabaco, Dominican Republic (whose training is done and her adventure begins in 5 days!).  We are blessed that our faithful feel loved and provide gifts that allow this Church and its ministry to continue. We are blessed with members whose talents extend beyond the walls of this holy place.

One such member is Dan Gilman; I will confess that I had some trepidation in following Dan’s sermon from last week.  It is a wonderful gift to have someone in our midst that devotes so much time to his faith and I know we all thank him for filling in for Pastor.   In Luke (4:24) Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown.”  He said this, after amazing the elders at the synagogue upon returning from his 40 days of temptation in the desert.  I wanted to give you that verse in advance of urging you to read Dan Gilman’s book, Learn to Love.  I do like the title because it IS God’s plan to have us love one another.   

There are so many great passages in his book, but in one particularly good passage he writes:       “My personal feeling is that God always wants to help us, but we live our lives devoid of his presence until we realize we need him. We sometimes create scenarios where we have bigger issues to fix than the ones we’re consumed in prayer with. God, being who he is, sees our more important needs from an eternal perspective and works in our lives to fix them first.  Unfortunately, our selfish nature often blocks our spiritual eyes from seeing the positive in our physically negative situation and we turn away from God rather than closer to him. We refuse to seek him or follow his will because we don’t understand it. Yet, if we truly stop our own direction and have faith in his eternal plan; if we can find a way to trust him for our own sake, we will eventually find the light at the end of the dark tunnel we’re in. We might not understand this now but will in time, if we step toward him in faith.”            

Stepping toward God in faith can comfort us in times of great difficulty and there is no greater difficulty than the separation of a loved one from us.  A good friend to my Mom who many of you know, Marilyn Sussin, sent Mom a wonderful note after my Dad passed away it eased a great deal of my sorrow.  It was given to her by a friend when she too was suffering the loss of her husband Warren. It reads…

“The tears that dampen our eyes in times of mourning are tears of homesickness, tears of longing for our loved ones.  But it is we who are away from home, not they! Death has been a doorway to an eternal home. They are still with us, lovingly and tenderly waiting for the day when, we too, will enter the doorway to our eternal home.  It is such a mistake to see death as a separation and nothing more. For us who believe, death is preparation for eternal union with those we love, in the peace and joy of Heaven.”

The two themes echoed by Dan and Marilyn that of living our lives in a state of true love and seeing it from an eternal perspective provide us a road map to salvation.  But, like a newborn kitten, it is remarkable how long our eyes and ears remain closed. New parents often come to this realization abruptly upon seeing their newborn.  The selfishness that marked their lives until that point fades quickly as the responsibility of nurturing the child takes center stage and the love that they feel for each other is magnified exponentially upon seeing their baby, the miracle of God’s design.

If you will surrender to God’s will and allow his design to guide you amazing things will happen. The obstacles in your path will be surmountable, the talents that you seek will arrive and the love you give will be received. Pastor makes giving a Sermon seem easy, but after putting in the time to make this sermon a reality I have again renewed my respect for his dedication, his education and his gift for teaching. It’s not often we can find movies that strengthen faith and herald pure love.  But, I found one and so will end with this cinematic reflection.  

In the movie Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey plays the part of Bruce Nolan an egotistical remote reporter for whom the most important thing on earth is to become an anchorman.  Bruce is so wrapped up in his personal success that he fails to see the abiding love (Pastor might say Agape Love) of his girlfriend Grace Connolly, played by Jennifer Aniston.   When, after many attempts, he again fails to win the anchor position he rails at God and one point screams, "Smite me, O Mighty Smiter" which was good for a laugh but was clearly blasphemous.  So God, played patiently by Morgan Freeman makes Bruce THE “Almighty”, he tells him he is taking a vacation and wishes him good luck with running the world - but he hesitates before leaving - reminding Bruce that even as God you can’t fix everything because he gave people “free will” – yes, free will and the right to choose. 

I won’t go into all the details and hilarious shenanigans that only a Jim Carrey character can deliver.  But when Bruce screws everything up and Grace leaves him because her heart is broken he is confronted with life without her – overwhelmed by his mortal failings and devastated by the departure of Grace he at last turns to God and surrenders to God’s will - just before being struck down by a truck.  When the fog of Heaven clears he is standing in judgment before God who, after admonishing Bruce for standing in the middle of a highway, sees how distraught he is and calmly invites Bruce to pray by asking:                                                                                                           

GOD:  What do you really care about?                                                                                            BRUCE: Grace.                                                                                                                                       GOD: Do you want her back?                                                                                                                                          Bruce: No. (To which God looks surprised, it’s the free will thing) BRUCE: I want her to be happy. No matter what that means. I want her to find someone who will treat her with all the love she deserved from me. I want her to meet someone who’ll see her always… as I do now…through your eyes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           And God responded: “Now that’s a prayer.”                                                                                                             

Let us endeavor to see one another through God’s eyes.       AMEN~

 

                                                                            + + +

Sermon for May 27, 2012        Dan Gilman

First Reading: Acts 2:1-21 & Ezekiel 37:1-14                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Psalm: 104:24-34                                                                                                                                                                              Second Reading: Romans 8:22-27                                                                                                                                                       Gospel: John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15                                                                                                                              

Prayer:  Heavenly Father we thank you so much for not abandoning us.   You sent your Son so that we could seek Him and find you, and He sent your Spirit that we could feel your presence and follow your lead.  Help us Lord to submit to your Holy Spirit and be faithful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and bring you the honor and glory you so deserve.  Amen! 

            Every year we reread this story in Acts, chapter 2 of that Day of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit came like tongues of fire and rested on the Apostles.   After this happens, Peter references the Prophecy taken from the book of Joel, 2:28-32.  There are very prominent Christian Leaders today that believe our generation is experiencing, as verse 17 says “in the last days” , and with all the matching up of Biblical prophecy and today’s headlines, who can argue that we’re not?   But today’s message makes it clear that we shouldn’t be frightened by that.  The psalmist says it right in verses 29 and 30 where he says of God “when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.”  Ultimately God has the control, and that’s all we really need to focus on.

The alternate reading from Ezekiel 37 speaks of the same thing.  It is the “Valley of Dry Bones” story where the Spirit of God shows Ezekiel how the breath of God can renew life in the dead.  It’s interesting to note that the second part of chapter 37 goes on to speak of one nation under one King (read Ezekiel 37:24-27).  What’s that got to do with today’s message you might ask, to which I say everything (See 1 Samuel 16:13a).  I’ll explain why that’s important in a bit.  First let’s continue to tie in the other readings.

            Looking at Romans 8:22-27, we can glean two distinct statements.  The first is that, as followers of Christ we should know that all creation is groaning in pain with us as we wait for our full resurrection and redemption.  We may not be able to see it yet but in faith we patiently hope for it as we struggle to follow Christ here on earth.  The second statement ties in the Holy Spirit as our helper and intercessor who intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.  There have been times in my life where I’ve been moved by such deep emotion that I was physically choked up and could not even speak.   We need to appreciate that it’s at that depth that the Holy Spirit lives.  The ruler of this world promotes a shallow existence.  We’re told we have the right to a self-centered, pain free, comfortable life, and we should use alcohol or pills or entertainment to maintain our comfort levels.  The problem is that these paths to comfort breed apathy, and that’s simply not God’s plan.  I’m not saying that alcohol or pills or entertainment are all bad.   Frankly, some people need these things to live an emotionally balanced life.  It’s when we turn away from God and look only to ourselves and these things that we wonder off the path.   God wants us all to be comfortable together as one people, and His Spirit has a lot to do with that plan; again, one nation under one King.   And I promise I’ll still get back to that but we have one last reading to cover.

            In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives His followers a heads up about two things.  The first is that He is leaving them.  He won’t be around anymore to testify on His own behalf, or to explain things like sin and righteousness and judgment.  However, His second point is that, because He’s leaving, He will send the Spirit of truth which will help each of them in a way that His mere physical presence could never do.  It will be the Holy Spirit that will convict the world of sin in denying Jesus as the Messiah; the Spirit will also teach them what it means to live righteously and be courageous because He will remind them that Satan is already defeated.   It will be in this Spirit that they can successfully testify to a fallen world on Christ’s behalf and save many from judgment.  Jesus even prepared them for this by giving them a foretaste of this spiritual power when He sent them out to the surrounding towns to heal the sick, to cast out demons and to spread the news of God’s Kingdom.

            Now, as we come to the end of the readings, we have to ask ourselves a couple of questions.  As Christians, are we allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our lives?  And if so, how can we tell that it’s working?  These are valid questions!  I’ve been reviewing a Small Groups study guide entitled “not a fan”.  In it, a Pastor by the name of Kyle Idleman asks a piercing question.  He asks us “Are you a follower of Jesus Christ or are you just a fan?”  Does God really have a strong influence on your thoughts, or your time, your money, your relationships, your business practices?  Or is your God a closet God that comes out when you think it’s OK to let Him out?  God, you can come to school with me, but don’t come around when I’m with my friends, or you can come to work with me, but you can’t see some of the websites I look at, and you’re not invited to some of the meetings I have.  I don’t mind giving you some money on Sundays God, as long as you don’t tell me how to spend it the rest of the week.   Sure my friends always use your name in vain, but they don’t mean anything by it and who am I to say something?  I know he or she is not a Christian God, but they’re really cute and popular or, they can offer me financial security.  How can I pass that up?

            The world is fractured not because God is too small to fix it or because He doesn’t care.  It’s because humanity refuses to be one nation under one King.  We should be asking ourselves “Why is that?” Ezekiel was a prophet roughly 400 years after King David’s death, yet through Ezekiel God said that David would be King forever.  We know that Jesus is our King, and Jesus is of the line of David, but it’s not only a bloodline that God requires.  What else did David and Jesus have in common?  And if we are children of God as David is, then what makes us God’s children?  Is it belief in Jesus?  Satan believes in Jesus.  Is it a baptism?  I would bet some of the most notorious villains ever arrested and convicted were baptized.  For the record, Hitler was baptized on April 20th, 1889.  Are we children of God because we go to church or give money or time or talent?  Does even our worship qualify us to be children of God?  Look back on Acts chapter 2:21 where it says “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  What comes before that saving call?  For that we need to back up only four verses to verse 17 where God tells us “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh”.

It is the Holy Spirit that is the common thread, not only through these readings today but through the hearts and minds of King David and all the Prophets, and Jesus and after Him, all the Apostles except the one, Judas.   It is that Spirit that came upon Saul and converted Him to Paul (see Acts 9:15-17).  It is that Spirit that spread like fire through the early Church and kept spreading across the globe and continues to spread even today in the hearts and minds of those who invite Him in.  The difference between those who follow Christ and those who are just fans can be seen in the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  But what does that look like?

I missed the excellent sermon pastor gave a couple weeks back where he listed character traits of the Spirit versus character traits of Satan.  However, since I want you focused on things of the Spirit, I will go to Galatians, chapter 6 and I’m going to skip verses 19-21 that explain what not to do, and begin at verse 22 where it lists the fruits of the Spirit.  There are nine character traits that the Holy Spirit will cultivate in our hearts if we work at allowing Him in (see Gal. 6:22-23a).  These are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  If someone says they are a Christian but they don’t show these traits on a regular basis, then chances are they are just fans of Christ and not real followers.  That’s not to say that followers are always perfect.  If you struggle with some of these traits like I do, pray each morning for the Holy Spirit to come into your heart and I promise you, you will see a difference.  Some days, I need to pray five or six times for the Spirit to step in and help me deal with an aggravating person or a bad situation.  It may be that I’m fighting a temptation or that I just need to get my joy back. 

Some of us struggle to let go of our childhood conditioning.  I was raised by a Marine Drill Sergeant who taught me to never cry, to always fight back and to not be afraid to kill if I had to.  While there may be merit in those traits for a soldier, they have no real place for the common kid or man for that matter, and certainly not for a Christian.  The Holy Spirit has helped me recondition my heart to what God expects and wants, and my life has been very blessed because of that reconditioning.  And if the Spirit can fix me then He can fix anyone. 

We give honor to the Holy Spirit because when it comes down to raw truth; God’s Holy Spirit is the only hope that humanity has to change our hearts and minds back to the original design and purpose, which is to love God and love each other the same way Go loves us.   That’s what we were created for, and that’s what the Holy Spirit was sent to help us with.  All we need to do is ask!              

                                                                                                + + +

Preached 11/6/11    "All Souls' Day"    By Linda A. Isaacs

Pastor Mark is visiting our oldest daughter, son-in-law and newest grandchild on the West coast and Dan Gilman is not available to cover.  Therefore, I will do my best to offer this message concerning All Soul's Day.

 What is All Souls Day?

   All Souls' Day was first instituted at the Benedictine Abbey of Cluny, France, during the time known as "the Dark Ages" (in 993 AD)  and quickly spread throughout the Christian world.  People held festivals for the dead long before Christianity but it was this monastery's fifth Abbot,  Odilio of Cluny, who in the 10th century, proposed that a day be set aside to honor the departed.

When is All Souls' Day?

All Saints' Day is November 1st, instituted by Pope Gregory III (731-741), when he consecrated a chapel to all the martyrs in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and ordered an annual celebration. This celebration was originally confined to the diocese of Rome, but Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended the feast to the entire Church and ordered it to be celebrated on November 1.  All SOULS' Day is the next day.

What are some of the customs associated with All Souls' Day?

In Austria, the souls of the departed are said to wander the forests, praying for release. A place is set for the dead at supper, or food is otherwise left out for them. 

In Poland, the souls are said to visit their parish churches at midnight, where a light can be seen because of their presence. Afterward, they visit their families, and to make them welcome, a door or window is left open.

Pastor Mark and I saw "Spirit Houses" in a Russian Orthodox cemetery of the Athabascan Tribe in Alaska this Summer......miniature houses are actually built over the graves of their loved ones.  They believe that the souls actually stay in those houses, which are elaborately decorated with personal items that belonged to the person who has died.

In many places all over the world,  the graves of loved ones departed are visited by entire families.  They spruce up the grave, plant new flowers, (symbolically representing the Garden of Eden) leave votive candles and tell the children all about the person who is no longer with them.  In the Philippines, they celebrate "Memorial Day" by staying at the grave of their loved one, through the night.  The entire family gathers where they pray and tell stories.

In Louisiana, the relatives whitewash and clean the tombstones and prepare garlands, wreathes and crosses of real and paper flowers to decorate them. In the afternoon, the priest processes around the cemetery, blessing the graves and reciting the Rosary.

In our home, I light the candle that was given to us by the funeral home when my parents died.  It's somehow comforting lighting their candles each year, on the anniversary of their death.

Some customs include special food preparations:

A.   In Italy:  they make a cookie named  "Bones of the Dead."

B.   In Mexico, they celebrate the "Dia de los Muertos" they make a special bread called, Pan de Muerto, which is sometimes baked with a toy skeleton inside. The one who finds the skeleton will have "good luck." This bread is eaten during picnics at the graves along with tamales, cookies, and chocolate. They also make brightly-colored skulls out of sugar (called "Sugar Skulls" to place on the family altars and give to children.

What do WE do in remembrance and celebration of those who have gone on to be with our Lord?  What actually, do WE believe?

Since so many of us here at St. Paul's have a Roman Catholic background, let's examine the Roman Catholic view on this, first.  It  defines saints  as a  group of deceased Christians who, while on earth, showed extraordinary piety. These Christians officially become saints only after being canonized by the Pope.   Pope John Paul presided over the beatifications of "nearly 1340 people" and the canonizations of almost 500--more than all his predecessors combined since the current procedures began in 1588.

Roman Catholics also believe that these saints intercede for us, before God, and can aid those who pray to them. They therefore urge their followers to venerate and invoke the saints for help and mercy.  The Roman Catholic church recognizes "All Saints' Day" as a holy day of obligation...... when you are expected to go to church.  

On the other hand, the Lutheran tradition has more broadly defined saints to be all believers in Jesus Christ, both living and dead.  This is referred to as the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant.  We become saints through faith in Jesus Christ!  In fact, the Lutheran tradition lumps "All Saints Day" and "All Souls Day" together because we believe that we are ALL saints......through our faith!  We don't pray for intercession because we believe in going directly to God with our prayers.

 

How do Lutherans honor the saints?

Lutherans do not pray to the saints in heaven or invoke their help.  However, we do honor the saints. Philip Melanchthon, Martin Luther's most important colleague in the Reformation, wrote of three ways that Christians should honor the saints:    The first is in thanksgiving, for we ought to give thanks to God for giving us examples of their lives. The second is in the strengthening of our faith by God's grace. The third honor is the imitation of their faith.

Each year on All Saints' Day, Pastor Mark tells us about the altar rail in the Hazel Run Church he was baptized at, in Minnesota.  It's in the shape of a half-circle.  Those people who have died and are now with the Lord are on the inside of the rail......the Church Triumphant.  Those of us who are still here, fighting the good fight, are on the outside of the rail.....the Church Militant.  We are ALL saints!

 

Why SHOULD we have a special time, set aside to remember those who have gone before us?  That's what funerals are for, right?  Why SHOULD we have special music and special prayers, dedicated to this sort of remembrance?  SHOULD we pray for the dead?  Why SHOULD we have All SOULS' Day?

 

It is interesting to note that praying for the dead is not a biblical concept. Our prayers have no bearing on someone once they have died. At that point their eternal future is confirmed. Either they are saved through faith in Christ and are in God’s presence where they are experiencing rest and joy, or they are in hell.

The Book of Concord, (1580) which is THE historic doctrinal standard of the Lutheran Church states that we are allowed to honor, remember and esteem those who have gone before us, out of love.  We are NOT to pray for someone in hopes of getting any spiritual or physical benefit from God.  For example,  I have read it is believed in the Catholic church, that you can release a soul from purgatory by going to church, confession, taking communion and prayer (indulgence) on All Saints' Day.

In the Lutheran Funeral Service, we are told that those who believe that Jesus is their Lord and Savior are assured eternal life with God.  As stated in the Holy Bible, Jesus sacrificed himself to his enemies and was crucified. This sacrifice was made to pay for the sins of all mankind. A true believer in Jesus will be forgiven of their sins as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice and gain eternal life in Heaven.  We are given hope and consolation!

All Souls' Day is an annual reminder......... to remember, honor, and celebrate those who have gone to be with God.  The ritual of consciously remembering loved ones who have passed, is an important spiritual practice in all our lives. It brings death into the context of our daily experience and reminds us that dying is not the end.  This is why I choose to focus on   "All SOULS' Day"  and not "All SAINTS' Day" for today's sermon.

 

There are many gifts and comforts that our faith provides to us. One of those is the promise of life eternal in the loving embrace of God. For those of us who have lost loved ones to death, this aspect of our faith is paramount in our hope and promise of one day being united  with those who have gone before us.  Some of us have lost family members and friends over the past year and the loss is still raw. For some, the loss came many years ago, yet the human pain of it remains. This is normal even in the midst of our faith. We miss people. And it’s good and healthy that we do.

What a great consolation our faith is at times of loss and grief. Knowing that eternal peace is the promise we receive from our loving God, can indeed be a comfort.  I don't know what people do, who don't have faith in God........who don't have a living relationship with Jesus..........who don't know the gifts of the Holy Spirit!  

I think it's interesting to hear what "famous people" say about death. 

 

Death is the supreme festival on the road to freedom.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Is death the last sleep? No--it is the last and final awakening.
-Sir Walter Scott

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.
-From a headstone in
Ireland

Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.  Martin Luther

The hour of departure has arrived and we go our ways; I to die, and you to live. Which is better? Only God knows.                                                                                     

-Socrates

                                             And finally......

Those who have lived a good life do not fear death, but meet it calmly, and even long for it in the face of great suffering. But those who do not have a peaceful conscience, dread death as though life means nothing but physical torment. The challenge is to live our life so that we will be prepared for death when it comes.                                                                          

-Unknown

Here at St. Paul's, we started our own tradition of recognizing those who have left us in this past year.  There's something very healing, I think, in openly remembering those we love.  The "cycle of life" continues and death is just part of it.  And it's not just people!  We also remember our special pets, who have blessed our lives so richly, when they were with us.  Once again, you are invited to come forward and remember those who have passed away and gone to be with the Lord.......not just this year, but ANY year of your life.  Remember your loved ones, and cling to the promise of our Heavenly Father...... that we will all, some day, be together again!  Amen. 

                                                                                                 +  +  +

                                                                     

Preached 8/29/11

1st reading: Jeremiah 15:15-21

Psalm:  26:1-8                                                                                                                                                                                             Second reading: Romans 12:9-21                                                                                                                                                               Matthew 16:21-28

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, our source of patience; please be patient with us as we learn to seek you and your guidance, instead of the world’s ways.  Help us understand and appreciate these words we read today and more importantly, help us apply them to the lives we live.  In Jesus’ name we pray, amen!

    There’s a central theme throughout these readings that can be summed up with one word.  Focus!   In this age of multi-tasking and high aspirations, it’s sometimes hard for us to remember what our life’s main focus should be.

    A real life example that we can relate to is driving on an interstate.  Have you ever been stuck in traffic for half an hour or more, only to find out that the accident causing the hold up was on the other side of the highway?  It becomes very apparent that the reason you’re being delayed is because others are focused more on what’s happening over there than they are on what’s happening in front of them.  Some people call then rubbernecks.  I prefer the term idiots.  I believe Pastor Mark calls them Jersey drivers.

    The reading taken from the book of Jeremiah today demonstrates how we, as people of God, can lose our focus on what should be most important.  Jeremiah ended up being one of God’s most successful profits, not because he changed the hearts of the people of Judah (because he certainly didn’t) but because he was faithfully obedient to share the message that God gave him, even when it cost him everything.  To pull that off through the terms of five separate kings takes incredible focus.

    It’s not really fair to him that they chose this reading as a reflection of his ministry because in it, his focus is more on himself and less on God.   But I think that’s the reason they picked these particular few verses and grouped them with the rest of our readings today; so that we could taste the importance of focus. 

    If you only read the Bible through the eyes of the Celebrate Bulletin inserts, then you might think that this is the first time God reassures Jeremiah, as he did in verse 20, saying:

                             I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze

                                    they will fight against you but will not overcome you,

                             for I am with you to rescue and save you,” declares the LORD.

    But if you’re crazy for God like me and read a real Bible on a daily basis, you might go to Jeremiah, chapter 1 and read :

                                           The word of the LORD came to me, saying,

                    5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”                                                                                                               

                    6 “Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

                    7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.

                     8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

    And the Lord goes on to say further down in chapter

                   1:17 “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.

                     18 Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall (sound familiar?) to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.

                     19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

 

   So you see, God and Jeremiah had a relationship ever since Jeremiah was a child.  It doesn’t say how old he was but it does say he was too young, at least in his own opinion.  But God’s message to him was, “Do as I tell you and keep your eyes and heart focused on me, not them.  Jumping back to chapter 15, verse 19, the last part of that verse, my Bible says it this way:  Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.  God wants the main focus of our lives to be the very same thing as Jeremiah’s.  He wants our focus to be on Him and not on the world we’re passing through.

   Now, if we move on to our Psalm of the day, we are reinforced in a positive way.  This is a beautiful message of confidence in a life clearly focused on God.  I have to admit, when I first read verses 1 and 2, I stopped and asked myself, half out loud; “Would I really pray for this?”  Would I be comfortable with God testing me and examining my heart and my mind to make sure I’m not being distracted by the world?

   We all lose sight of the eternal picture from time to time and get bogged down in the worldly day to day grind.  That’ll happen.  But we come to church, and are part of the True Church because we want to recapture our innocence as it says there in verse 6.  We want to have thankful hearts as we recount God’s wonderful deeds.  And maybe not so much when we’re younger, but when we’re adults and face the trials of life, we have a much better appreciation for the house in which God dwells, where his glory abides, as described there in verse 8. 

   We gain that appreciation only when we focus on God.  If we come here and we’re not focused on God, then we need to rearrange our thoughts.  This is where we come specifically for that peace and joy and eternal protection that only God provides.  But the message today is for more than just one place we come for an hour or so on Sunday.  Our focus should be continuous throughout all the hours of all our days.  Because when it is, we drastically increase the levels of God’s peace and joy and protection in our lives.

    Moving from here to our other two readings, our focus doesn’t change but becomes more tightly calibrated to show us the true character of God, which is Love!  Paul shares a total of 30 commands, if you will, on how to live lives that reflect the nature of God.  He gives us twenty three “do’s” and seven “don’ts”.  As an example, look at verse 14 where it says “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”  He starts with a “do” and ends with a “don’t.”     If we look at verse 17 he starts with a “don’t” and ends with a “do” when he tells us: Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.

    I picked these two examples because they support the main theme of these readings which is that we need to live our lives, focused on the correct things; the eternal things, the things of God.  Paul is stressing here that even as the world brings us evil and tries to pull us away from God, we, as children of God, should always keep our focus on love which is the true nature of God.  This is how we protect ourselves and help others in the process.

   The theme of focus really jumps out when we read our Gospel lesson for today.  Poor Peter, shortly after getting kudos for confessing that Jesus was the Messiah, messes up by focusing on human things instead of divine things there in verse 22.   You can’t blame him for wanting to protect his Lord, but learn from this; when the conversation ends and we’re asked for our input, we had better be aligned with God’s plan; agree with it or not. That applies to many things we deal with even today.  

   Our culture tells us we should accept ungodly things.  It is up to us as believers to hold the line on what we accept or reject.  If we say we love God then that line had better be the same one God has drawn.  Much like Peter, there are things from God that we may not understand or agree with.  There are also things that we do, or loved ones do, that clearly go against what God defines as acceptable and good.  The greatest mistake we can make as Christians is to act as false prophets by agreeing with today’s culture that certain life choices and styles are really acceptable to God. 

    That said, as sinners ourselves, we aren’t allowed to judge because that’s God’s job.  What we are allowed, and even called to do, is demonstrate lives that clearly focus on, and are under the influence of God’s love.   And depending on when and where you’re born, that may not always be as easy as it sounds.

   When Jesus told the Apostles to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow him, he was speaking in clear and accurate terms.  For us here today in Rhinebeck, NY, it’s a metaphor but for them it was a contemporary and very real danger.  Every time they entered Jerusalem, they could see actual crucifix’s up on the hill.  Those crosses weren’t carried by Romans.  They were carried by the accused who were hanging on them.  In their minds, Jesus was speaking quite literally.  Jesus gets more descriptive in Matthew 24:9-14 where he says to them:

                     9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.

                   10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,

                   11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.

                   12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,

                   13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

 

Did you catch the focal point there in the middle?  “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”  If we stand firm and stay focused with Christ in our hearts, love can thrive in our world.  But if we allow the world to dictate what is right and wrong and valuable, love will grow cold and people will fall away.  How do we as Christians, make sure we get this right?  The key is in the cross we take up!

 

The cross to us, especially here in America, is no literal threat like it was for the Apostles.  For us it is a metaphor for God and for his love.  The cross makes us think of the sacrifice Jesus made for us because he loves us.  For us today, picking up our cross means putting God and his will first in our lives, loving others second and ourselves last.  For us to do that successfully, we need to focus on two distinct things; the first being God and what his will is for our lives, and the second is eternity.  If we focus on God, it’s easier to remember that we’re eternal spirits in a temporal world.  With that truth in our hearts, it’s much easier to love the way God loves and find the joy and peace that God provides to everyone who really follow him.  But if we lose that focus to this world, then we lose both God and eternity.

 

For me personally, I’m tired of this world and I’m ready to go home but I am happy to do God’s will here on earth as long as he wants me to.  I love my wife and I love my kids but the reality is that they are only my wife and kids for a very short blip in time.  For me they are already my sister and brothers in Christ, as are all the people in my bloodline going all the way back to Adam.  That’s my world view.  Life is very exciting when your focus is on God, and in my humble opinion, it’s a whole lot more fun.  But don’t just take my word for it.  Get focused and stay focused and find out for yourself!      Amen!

 

 Preached 8/14/11

1st reading: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

 

Psalm: 67

Second reading: Romans 11:1-9

Matthew 15:10-28

Prayer:

   Heavenly Father, creator of all people, we are here today because of your mercy and grace. We thank you for grafting us into your fold and helping us with the faith we practice.  Help us God, to not take you for granted but to live lives that bless you with the appreciation you so deserve.  In Jesus name, amen!

   I may as well just cut to the chase and say that the over arching theme of these readings is that we, as foreigners to Israel and Gentiles by spirit, are considered God’s “other” chosen because we ourselves  chose to have faith in the sacrifice and Lordship of Jesus Christ.  That’s the message.  But since I’m up here already and we have 10 or 15 minutes to kill, we may as well unpack this and see if we can dig down a little deeper and help it really take root in our lives.

   First, we’ll look at Isaiah’s message.  Isaiah was a prophet in Judah, the southern kingdom, around 700 BC.  He is known mostly for his messianic foretelling, but here he shares God’s message of grace to anyone from anywhere who joins themselves to the Lord.  In verse 6,  he specifically mentions foreigners or non-Jewish people who minister to God, love his name and are his servants.  At first glance it sounds redundant because we know that to minister is to serve.  In looking deeper, I came across a description of ministering in Hebrews 1:14 where it says:

        Are not all Angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? 

   My commentary goes on to say that Angels are God’s messengers who have several functions including; serving believers, protecting the helpless, proclaiming God’s message and executing God’s judgment.  So I asked myself, “then what does he mean when he speaks of those who will be God’s servants?”  It wouldn’t make sense for God to be so blatantly redundant.  In looking into that, I found that the context of this word servant was actually speaking of those who truly worship God.  So what Isaiah is saying is that anyone from anywhere who lives to minister to him by maintaining justice and doing what is right, who loves his name and is proud to claim it in public, and who worships God and deeply appreciates who he is; they are the ones who will be invited to his house of prayer and experience joy.

   Now at the end of verse 7 we find the text that Jesus quoted some 730 years later in the temple when he was chasing out the merchants.  It says: “for my house will be a house of prayer for all peoples”, or some versions say, “for all nations.”  If we look at Mark 11:17, we’ll find the quote from Jesus where he tacks on to Isaiah’s words, “but you have made it a den of robbers”.  He said this because they considered worldly physical gain more important than Godly spiritual health.  I’ll come back to that thought in a little while.

   It was interesting to discover that this was actually the second time Jesus drove merchants out of the temple.  The first time was recorded in John 2:13 when he actually made a whip out of cords and screamed “get these out of here!  How dare you turn my father’s house into a market”?  This is where the disciples remembered that it was written “Zeal for your house will consume me”.  Until the other day, I always thought this was another version of the same incident, but it isn’t.  I have to say I love it when I find out a new fact after all the times I’ve read the Bible.  It just goes to show that reading the Bible once or even twice is never enough.

   Another new fact that I found during this study was that Jesus actually arrived at the temple the night before.  Mark 11:11 says that, “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”  So with all night to stew over the merchants moving back in after he drove them out once already, Jesus was pretty mad.  Adding a small dose of fuel to his fire, he was also hungry that morning because that was the same morning he went to grab a fig to eat but the fig tree was bare so he cursed it.  Could you imagine being the disciples at this point?  They probably walked about 10 paces behind him that morning.  If not 10 paces, at least outside of smacking range!   Just kidding!  There is no evidence that Jesus ever smacked the disciples.  But there’s plenty of evidence that he wanted to sometimes!

   So now that I’ve drifted way off the point, let me bring it back.  Jesus was mad because the temple’s Gentile court, where the merchants set up their tables, was specifically meant for those whom Isaiah spoke of in chapter 56.  It was for the foreigners, who came to Jerusalem to love, serve and worship the God of Israel.  They were anyone from anywhere whose life song we rehearsed in Psalm 67.  It’s one of the shortest Psalms but it can’t get more pointed than this.  In fact if we just take the refrain, we have the core message which is “Let all the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.

   This is a foundational element to the promise that God gave to Abraham and Moses, and then again through the prophets like Isaiah, and ultimately through Jesus himself; that all peoples of the earth have the God given freedom to choose whom they will serve.  And as Romans 11: 29 implies, the promised gifts and calling of God are eternally irrevocable, which means they are still valid for us today as well.

   Paul’s message reaffirms the promise plan of God.  Paul is there speaking to fellow Jews and Gentiles alike, explaining how they actually benefit each other by inspiring God’s mercy through each groups’ past disobedience.  It sounds bad when I state it that way but this is a great example for us to use when people ask; how does God turn something bad into something good?  The answer is that he loves us so much that, even as we deserve to be cut off, still, by mercy and grace he grafts us into his family.  Paul explains that God’s promise will never change or be revoked.  And that promise is that a Jewish remnant will be saved through grace, as well as anyone from anywhere (and in our case, from any time) who loves and serves and worships God in spirit and in truth. 

   Jesus himself told us this in John, chapter 4, verses 23 and 24 when he explains to a Samaritan woman:  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”    So please, understand here that if you’re having a hard time finding God in your life, then begin to really worship him in the spirit with a sincere heart and he will come find you, because that’s the kind of people he seeks.  No matter whom you are or where you’re from or what past you may have, God’s grace can save you if you turn to him with your whole heart and mind, which are the physical conduits for your spirit.  That’s the power and the beauty of his grace and mercy.  All we need to do is believe it.  

   In our story in Matthew, Jesus is trying to explain this concept of true worship to the Jews of his day.   It’s a shame it starts at verse 10 because verses 1 through 9 really lay it out plainly as Jesus gets up in the face of some Pharisees who came to question what Jesus was teaching.  Starting at verse 1, it says:  Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

   Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:  “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”

   That cuts right to the heart of it, doesn’t it?  Jesus gives them a very plain example of how they twisted a spiritual truth from the word of God and replaced it with a money-making human rule.  Where Gods’ command is to honor your father and mother with support, they say if you give that support to them, the people who run the temple; then it’s ok not to support your parents.  That’s a horrible corruption of God’s intentions.  

  In the case of washing the hands and what defiles the body, Jesus is pointing out that their rules of tradition caused people to practice fake worship by worrying more about the physical than the spiritual.   Jesus then turns to the people there and explains that, as nice as some physical rules may be, like washing your hands before you eat; the main focus should always be on the spiritual, by having a heart and mind after God through love and worship and service.  These are things that should come out of us. 

   Now, I realize that I strayed here from what Jesus actually said because he was using negative examples of what comes out of us, but the point is still valid.  We can’t afford to be allowing worldly physical rules nullify, override or take away from God’s spiritual rules.  We need to always remember that we’re eternal spiritual beings in a temporal physical world.   That truth is what gives us the power to act like children of God.

   We know we live in a sinful world and that our hearts are infected by that sin.  I can go on for another half hour talking about how our culture breeds evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness and slander.  And if you want my ideas on how to prevent that in your life, you should read chapter 8 in my book entitled “You are what you think”.  It begins with a quote from Albert Einstein who said “The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

   As followers of Christ we should already have a world view that is very different than the world around us.  But in focusing on the over arching message here today, it remains a message of faith that says; no matter who you are or where you’re from or when you’re from, if you have a heart after God, he wants you in his kingdom.   God is seeking people even today who fit that bill.   Whether you are a Jew who practices Judaism as true as Jesus did, or a proverbial Canaanite woman who yells, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David”; as long as you have faith and truly believe the promise of God, your faith will heal you and bring you home.   

   I’ll close with a choice that every human being must make.  It’s taken from the book of  Joshua, chapter 24:15: “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,..As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”  Amen!

 

Preached  8/7/11

1st reading: 1 Kings 19:9-18

Psalm:  85:8-13

Second reading: Romans 10:5-15                                                                                   Matthew 14:1-9, 22-33

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, it is only through you that we can experience what true righteousness is.  Help us please to find the level of faith we need in this life, so that we can practice the level of faithfulness you desire.   Through these words we read today, show us our purpose and direct our hearts to be aligned with your will, in Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen!

 

   Today’s readings bring us back to some very basic concepts of Christianity and how we are to cultivate a relationship with a God we never physically see.  It begins with a story about a prophet meeting God on a mountain.   1 Kings 19, verse 10 jumps right in, expressing great fear in the heart of Elijah; but to understand it, we need to back read a bit so we know who or what he’s afraid of.  When you hear the story, you may have the same reaction I did in wondering why Elijah was running at all.

    The story starts back in 1 Kings, Chapter 17 when Elijah announces to the evil King Ahab, husband of the evil witch Jezebel, that there will be no dew or rain for the next 3 years.  Now we’ll jump ahead 3 years to Chapter 18 where God sends Elijah back to King Ahab to announce that rain will return, but only after a showdown between the false god of Baal and the real God of Israel.   This is a story for the record books.   Starting at Chapter 18: verse 20, Elijah throws down the gauntlet:

   Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”   But the people said nothing.

   Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”

   Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

   They called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.  At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”  So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

   Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” (Quick note here to say that it had been about 50 years since David's kingdom broke into 10 tribes of Israel in the North and 2 tribes of Judah in the south, but Elijah was being faithful in honoring God's original promise using 12 stones instead of 10).  He dug a trench around the Lord’s alter.   He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.

   “Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

   At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.  Answer me, Lord; answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (Another quick note to point out that this was the main reason for doing all of this, not to brag or show off but to turn the people’s hearts back to God).

    Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.   When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord —he is God! The Lord —he is God!”

   Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there. 

   As if that amazing and miraculous display was not enough, the story goes on to tell how Elijah told King Ahab he’d better hurry and run home because rain was coming.  The sky was cloudless and hot when he said it but before long things turned dark and the rain did come. 

   To with this devastating show of power and might, followed by the slaughtering of 450 false prophets, you’d think Elijah would be downright fearless.  You’d think he’d be unstoppable!  But instead, we find him in the next chapter running for his life from the wrath of Jezebel who was Baal’s number one fan.  In a culture that supposedly suppressed women, how bad does this woman have to be to scare one of God’s most popular and proven prophets?  And for the record, he didn’t just duck across town.  He ran 200 miles south, all the way down to Mount Horeb.  This is the same mountain Moses had stayed 40 days and nights on, receiving God’s commandments.  Can anyone guess how long it took Elijah to get from Judah to Mount Horeb?    It took him 40 days and nights to get there.  Yet even with fear streaming through every fiber of his being, Elijah was still faithfully focusing on God.

    I bring all this up for 2 reasons.  The first is that this is one of the coolest stories in the entire Bible, to be sure!  The other is to point out the faith and faithfulness life applications it provides.  We can learn a lot from Elijah about what real faith is and how we need it to practice faithfulness, especially when we’re stressed, so that we can be rewarded with righteousness as our Psalm and even Romans points us to. 

   To summarize Chapter 19:9-18, Elijah’s strong faith led to a very personal relationship with God.  Remember what Hebrews 11:1 says:  Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  In this story, Elijah is confident in what God tells him to hope for; in this case a cleansing of Israel and a replacement for him in Elisha, and he uses that strong faith to go in faithfulness to do as God directed him.   And as you can imagine, things work out just like God said they would. 

   It all starts with a very important practice.  It’s there in 1 Kings 19, verse 9 and is made even more apparent in Psalm 85, verse 8, where it says:  I will listen to what the Lord God is saying.  We need to listen to God’s word if we are going to grow our faith, and we need to listen to God’s instruction if we have any chance of being faithful in following his lead.  That means we need to cultivate both word and worship in our lives.  The truth of God’s word will grow our faith and time spent in sincere worship will produce strong faithfulness.   Our worship is our personal investment in the appreciation of God.  And we know that what we invest in becomes a treasure to us.  The Psalm here tells us that faithfulness will be met with love.  It also says that, as we lift up our faithfulness from the earth, God will reach down to us with his righteousness, which will bring us peace.

   Righteousness can be defined this way:  being in right standing with God.  Through our faith, we believe that God is right and we align our hearts with his through our faithfulness to his will and his word.  I know I covered Romans chapter 10 in my last sermon a few weeks ago, saying this is how we become “in Christ”.   This is very important for us as Christians to know and share.  But today I’m looking at these verses through the lens of righteousness and faith because there’s a connection there we don’t want to miss.   

   Verse 6 implies that there is a righteousness that comes from faith that can save us, but what are we being saved from?  Here’s where real life application comes in.  Faith saves us from spiritual death, but it also protects us from things like anxiety, loneliness, despair and sinful thoughts and actions.   These are things that a faithless world loses itself to on a daily basis. 

   Now, am I saying we’re absolutely sheltered from these?  No I’m not.  We experience anxiety.  We feel loneliness and we do despair at times.  But when we are faithful to follow God and do as he says, he is there with us through these trials and helps us in ways that the faithless will never experience.  God is our righteous anchor that keeps us tied down in this stormy world of sinful thoughts and actions.  He keeps us right when the world is trying to pull us in the wrong direction.    That’s how our faith saves us.  We believe in him and through word and worship we are kept in right standing even as we struggle to survive. 

   Faith is hard to see and feel when we’re experiencing the pain that life’s trials bring, but think back on the trials you’ve gone through.  Think about ones where you held tight to God and maybe times when you didn’t.  I know that for me, the times I held tightly to God’s hand through word and worship, I was saved from enduring more pain and suffering because I had hope.  You only have hope through faith.  People without faith are without real, lasting hope.

   It’s ok to be afraid.  If Elijah can be afraid then we can certainly be.  If Peter can, in one minute have faith enough to get out of a perfectly good boat and walk out onto a raging sea, and then a minute later, start sinking from fear of the wind, then surely God will have mercy on us who have not heard him with our ears like Elijah, or have seen him with our eyes like Peter.  Surely God will be there with us as we struggle to build our faith and stay faithful to his calling.

   Sometimes it is our faithfulness that allows us to hope when we’re in a hopeless situation.  No matter how bad things seem, we keep getting up in the morning and we get on with our day.  We do this because in our heart of hearts we believe in the promise plan of God.  We take it on faith that whatever God’s plan is, it is good and it will succeed.  Not only that but we know in our hearts that we, you and me, are very real and important parts of his plan.   We may not be able to explain it all, but we continue day and night to faithfully trust him.  And when we do that, we cause God to smile and there’s nothing more right than that!

   I know I sound like a broken record sometimes but to me it always boils back down to these basic rules:

- Put God first in your life.  Do whatever you have to do to keep God in front of you, so that everything you do and say can be guided by his presence in your life.

                                                    And…

- Love God and love one another the way God loves.  When you learn to love the way God loves, your faith grows, your faithfulness becomes stronger and your righteousness shines as a witness to the world, that love is the most important thing.

   These are simple Godly rules to live by that will save you from not only spiritual death but from a whole host of worldly problems you don’t want and you don’t need.  But even if you do allow fear to creep in as you experience trials of this world, look at the God who is first in your life and listen to him, because he is always faithful to bring you peace and hope.  Amen! 

 

Preached 7/10/11

1st reading: Isaiah 55:10-13                                                                                     

Psalm:  65:1-13 

Second reading: Romans 8:1-11  

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23  

Prayer: 

Heavenly Father, we once again come before you with humility and a sense of awe, learning who and what you really are.  You are a God who created all things and have the power to make or break us, yet you reach out to us in love.  Help us to accept that love whole heartedly, and teach us the truth, your truth about our relationship to you.  We ask this in the name above all names, Jesus Christ.  Amen!

   I could barely believe my eyes when I pulled out this celebrate bulletin insert and began reading what the passages were in preparation for today’s sermon.  I felt like I hit the mother load.  I’m pretty sure that nothing I’m going to say up here is going to do justice to the message God is trying to share with us here, but I’ll promise you this; I got it, and I’ll do my best to give it to you and anyone else who has ears to hear. 

   We start with Isaiah 55 which is probably the 2nd most quoted chapter of Isaiah in history, behind chapter 53 of course, which I mentioned in last week’s sermon.  Our reading starts at verse 10 but I can’t help but back up 2 verses to verse 8 and lead in with this message which you should all recognize.  It says: 

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”   declares the LORD.

9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

   Now that’s a baseline to start from!  Life and spiritual matters are hard to deal with at times, but if we always start from these two verses, I think we’ll be OK.  These verses share two very important truths which are; we’re not expected to understand it all and yet, we have a God who does, and is there to help.  So with that to launch from, Isaiah uses our dependency on an earthly element like rain as a metaphor to share an amazing truth that is really foundational to the strength of our faith.  Speaking for God, he says in verse 11:  “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. 

     The reading goes on from there with other beautiful metaphors that conjure up an image of creation celebrating God’s chosen.  Trees clap their hands, wind rips through mountains and hills with whistles and howls of praise.   You can picture flowers that pop up and then bow towards them and the creator of the universe in reverence.  What an awesome image to imagine!  But let’s appreciate these images for their purpose.  Even today, God’s plan is rolling out across time and space.  In fact, based on his word and the condition of our world, it would appear that we are coming to the end of times.  As scary as that may sound, don’t be afraid.  Be happy and believe in your hearts what verse 11 says.  God will have his way.  He will not be frustrated, and as believers, neither will we.  The key word there is believe.   We absolutely must believe with not just our flesh (or more specifically, our brains), but with our spirits.  That is the main point Paul makes to the Romans, and I’ll get to that, but first I want to tie in the metaphorical message of Isaiah with the practical truth of our psalm. 

   Psalm 65, verse 2 speaks of all of us here when it says to God; “To you, the one who answers prayer, to you all flesh will come.”  If I read this right, all people, believers or not, will have to face God.  We can and should have faith that even though our sins are stronger than we are, he is stronger than them.  So this psalm today could not be more encouraging for those of us who truly believe.  It clearly sums up the entirety of God’s plan.   Through the love of God, good  will overcome evil and we are all going to be flat out blown away with the beauty of God’s house and how his righteousness will redeem and renew this planet.  Every place we go will be clean and organized, self sustaining and shadowless.   All cities will gleam and all landscapes will look like they came right out of a Thomas Kinkade or Thomas Cole painting.  We will finally and eternally experience life and creation the way God planned it from the start. Why?  Because as Isaiah told us, God’s word will not fail in its purpose.  And if you believe God’s word, that’s not something to fear, that’s something to pray for; unless, in your heart of hearts, you don’t really believe in the spirit realm or the resurrection of Christ or the unfathomable grace of God. 

   This part is thee most important part of your life and you absolutely must get this right; for your sake and for the souls that follow your lead.   They may be a brother or sister or close friend.   It could be your spouse, your children or grandchildren.  They may also be 3 or 4 generations yet to come.  Like it or not, the legacy you are leaving will either lean the branches of your family tree towards God or away from God.  The hard truth is that just because you and I are here today does not guarantee that we’re getting it right.  Paul’s letter to the Romans opens chapter 8 with an acutely absolute truth.  “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.  Here’s where you should be asking yourself, “Am I in Christ Jesus?”  What does it take to actually be “in” Christ Jesus?  Now, what was the key word I mentioned___________? 

   Paul does not really explain here what it takes to be “in” Christ Jesus, so I will.  But first I think I need to finish Paul’s message because it’s a critical piece of the answer.  Paul is comparing two very real worlds and I dare say that the spiritual world is actually more real than our physical world.  I say that as a true believer of the fact that Jesus was a spiritual being long before he was a man.  According to Paul, the spiritual side is the key to overcoming this world’s snares.  We here today must also realize, appreciate and live like we absolutely believe that we are spiritual beings as well.  That’s what Paul is talking about there in verse 5 when he says we need to set our minds on things of the spirit.  Now here’s where it gets real deep so please be patient with me. 

   Demonic possession is where an alien and ungodly spirit forces its way into a physical body against the host spirits will.  This is an unnatural act that violates the free will law of love.  For love to work, free will has to be in play.  What Paul is talking about here is not a possessive take over by God but rather a willing and submissive invitation to share our physical bodies with God’s spirit.   By doing this, God has our permission to guide our lives so that we live in agreement with his will.  But again, we won’t even be able to start if we do not know in our hearts that the spiritual realm is real and Jesus is Lord of it. 

   To help you understand it better, I’ll use the car and driver explanation.  The car is your physical body.  It sits lifeless until your spirit gets in it, starts it up and makes it move.   Demonic possession is like a car jacking with kidnapping thrown in.  You are driving along and all of the sudden; someone else opens the door, shoves you aside and starts driving away.  You no longer have any control or say as to where you’re headed, and you are frightened and stuck alone with a lunatic.  Unfortunately, the much more common example in our world today is one where God knocks on the driver’s door window and we ignore him.  Then Satan, looking like a friend knocks on the passenger door window and we let him in.  Before we know it, he’s telling us where to go and it’s always in a direction that shows Jesus in the rear view mirror chasing the car.

   Now for those who believe, here’s the scenario.  We take the first step to invite God into our car.  Maybe at first we’re stubborn or proud or both and we insist he sit in the passenger seat.  He tries to guide us but we keep making wrong turns.  Eventually we realize that the most efficient and most enjoyable way to go is to allow God to drive the car.  That’s not to say the ride is all sunny days and flat highways.  He’ll never leave our side as he helps us through storms and dark valleys at times, because those are unavoidable in this physical and fallen world.  But that’s when we need to remember that this physical world is not where it begins and ends.  This is just a temporary car ride.  The question is, when the car stops, who will be in it with you?

   So, I hope you understand more about the spiritual realm we are absolutely a part of and how it interacts with this temporal physical world.  The degree to which we allow God to drive will determine the fruit of our lives that Jesus is speaking of in Matthew 13.   This too falls back onto the key word I stress.  Which is__________?   It doesn’t come right out and say it here but there are actually two important parts we need, to cultivate the good soil hearts that Jesus is looking for.   The first is in believing, otherwise referred to as faith.  The second is works.  Works are the actions we take to share the love of God with others.  I’ll step through these so you see what I mean. 

   The seed dropped on the path are people with no believing in them.  It doesn’t even scratch the surface and those people are left for Satan to easily attack.  The seed on the rocky ground are those who want to believe but not enough to change their lives because they don’t want to leave their comfort zone.  This is where works is supposed to come in but it doesn’t.  And without works, believing is pointless.  It’s like having a wall mural of the Caribbean in your house because you say you love it there, but you never actually go there.  It’s embarrassing.   The seed that falls among the thorns are those who want to believe and try to love others but get side tracked with lower gods of this world.  It can be things like money or power or socially active lives that center on their satisfaction rather than helping others.    This is the scenario that describes some people that actually go to church but end up doing it for the wrong reasons. 

   But some seeds do fall on good soil don’t they?  How do they do that?  Well the answer to that is found in another question, which is, - where exactly is the good soil and how can we as lowly seeds get close to it?  The answer is we do that by being in Christ Jesus.   And to be in Christ, we need to believe that Jesus is who he says he is and can do what he says he will do.  What does it take for you to believe?  What evidence do you need?   

   Of all the people who ever lived on the face of the earth to date, Jesus of Nazareth has been the most studied and scrutinized.  Thousands of people have poured over thousands of document fragments and historical records found in thousands of archeological sites in Israel, all searching for validation on the life of Christ.  In fact, as I speak and you listen, there are still people across the globe studying these today.  And guess what they’re finding?  All of this physical evidence points to the valid historicity of Jesus being who he says he is.  A man born, a man killed and a man resurrected and seen alive after three days by hundreds of people.  There is more proof of this than there is that George Washington crossed the Delaware or that Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford’s theatre.  You too can study for years like I did; search until your eyes bleed.  There are men like Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell, intelligent men who set out to prove the Bible lied, only to be confronted with such insurmountable evidence that they not only converted to Christianity but have written apologetic books on what they found.

   But for all you Casey Anthony fans, we’ll scrap the tons of physical evidence and only use circumstantial.  I am only one man who is in Christ and I’ve never physically seen him.  Yet I can testify to you that I have seen real miracles when the name of Jesus was claimed.  I have seen lives changed, people healed and families thrive because Jesus was invited in.  I’m only one guy.  There are millions more just like me.  I have seen it in my own life as well.  We literally have over 2000 years of circumstantial evidence merely acknowledging the fact that we’re still here today, gathered in his name.  And guess what?  There are literally billions of men, women and children across the globe doing the exact same thing we are right now. Can we prove Jesus is alive by that?  Can we prove the spiritual realm is real by looking at that?

   How much evidence do you need to believe in the reality of the spirit realms and the truth of the Bible?   And how many people have you met that have truly known Jesus and then denounced him?  I’ll remind you of something that Pastor says from time to time.  Of all the death bed sessions he’s had throughout his life and career, not one person has ever said they regretted knowing Jesus Christ as their God and Savior.  Not one!   

So I am going to offer an invitational prayer and I promise to make myself available to anyone who wants to know more or who, at any time, day or night, needs a refresher, or help in any way in believing these truths.  Because it’s absolutely that important!  This is a Lutheran church and we don’t do altar calls here so I don’t expect to see anyone coming up as I pray.  But I will share with you something else Paul told the Romans in chapter 10 starting with verse 6 and jumping to verse 8 through 12;

Paul says: But the righteousness that is by faith says: “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  That’s how you become “in” Christ Jesus.  You believe in your heart and verbally confess with you lips that Jesus is who he claims to be.

   So, if as I am praying you feel God’s tug on your heart, please confess it out loud for by doing so, you hold yourself accountable and will not as easily slide back.   So here I go….if you don’t know if you believe, please join me… 

Jesus, it’s me.  I have never seen you and there are many people in my life that don’t believe in you.   And there are many things I don’t know, but one thing I do.  I know that I am a sinner in need of a savior.   Jesus I invite you into my heart right now.  I want to believe Lord, please help me with my unbelief.   Please send your Holy Spirit into my heart and open my eyes to your truth. I give you permission to teach my heart about your will.  I thank you Lord for helping me.  Please, stay close.  Amen!

   Please, if you are here today and you are still unsure, keep searching.  And I meant what I said about being available to help you.  I’m in the phone book, I’m on facebook and I’m usually here every other Sunday.   As believers we have everything to gain and nothing to lose.  But for those who aren’t sure or don’t want to be bothered with letting God in, you do not want to die without God in the car.  Amen!

 

Preached 7/3/11

1st reading: Zechariah 9:9-12

Psalm: 145:8-14

2nd reading: Romans 7:15-25a

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Prayer:  

Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for being an everlasting God of love and compassion, who keeps his promises and forgives us even today as we struggle to learn your will and follow your lead.  Lord God, as we review your word today, please send your Holy Spirit to weigh upon our hearts and minds, that we would listen, learn and then live by your beautiful word.  We ask this in the name of that word, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  Amen!

 

In reviewing the collection of readings for today, I was struck by two distinct impressions.  The first is how it seemed to run backwards in time.  The first reading from Zechariah speaks of the future; things to be, namely the 1st coming of the Messiah.  The Psalm and Romans speak in present tense which can and do apply to our lives today.  And then Jesus, speaking in past tense, shared his thoughts on what he witnessed as events in his earthly life unfolded.  So it goes from pointing to the future to discussing the present to reflecting on the past.  That’s pretty counter cultural to how we view things today.  But as Christians, if we are not living in a way that is counter cultural to those who do not believe and live by faith, then we’d better re-evaluate ourselves and the way we live our lives.

 

The second impression I got from this collection today is that the readings deliberately negate the harder side of the truth.  If we finish chapter 9 from Zechariah, reading 9:14-17, it describes the violence of the Messiah’s second coming.  If we back up one and look at Psalm 144, it puts humanity in perspective, asking “what is man that you give any thought to him?  Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.  And it goes on with an invitation for God to break open the heavens and reach down to destroy his enemies.  Romans chapter 7 actually opens with verses that imply, “Wives, if you kill your husbands, you can marry again, but until they’re dead, you’re stuck sister!”  OK, so maybe not for the women, but for us men in the congregation, this is a harder side of the truth!  And Matthew?  Let’s just say there’s a “feel good” reason they left out verses 20 through 24. 

 

So what is the message that God wants us to walk away with here today?  If we believe that this collection is in any way inspired by God as a separate, distinct and specific collection, what are we supposed to learn from it?   Maybe if we break it down and pull the individual messages out, something collective will settle out at the end. 

Let’s start with Zechariah.  The message found here is one of encouragement and more pertinent to our lives then we may appreciate at first glance.  It is a message directed towards Israel in a time after the Babylonian captivity.  Cyrus of Persia, after conquering Babylon, allows the exiles to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.  Unfortunately, the building was halted.  In fact, it remained halted for about 15 years.  The Jews had allowed their zeal to fade.  They were badgered and attacked by surrounding enemies who wanted no part of the re-establishment of a Jewish culture in the region.  Sound familiar?  But God called Zechariah to give them a message.  And that message for them, as well as for us today, is that there is reason to hope.  There is reason to rejoice.  God is still in the restoration business.  The temple restoration was actually just a visual reminder of the spiritual restoration that God would set up in the hearts of man.  One of peace, brought not by war but humility and a promise kept.  The promise now fulfilled with Jesus’ first coming and the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit for mankind even today. 

In verse 11, God reminds them of the blood of the covenant he had with Israel.  We can rephrase that to read; life of the promise or existence of the active contract.   The point being that this was (and still is for us today) no time to let the zeal for a relationship with God and the position of being his chosen people slip away due to fear or apathy.   God was, is and will always be there for us.  It is up to us to trust in him and keep building up the temple, which is our spiritual health and relationship with him.  

Zechariah mentions a waterless pit.  In studying for this I found out that the ancient eastern cultures commonly used dry pits to store prisoners and slaves.  They would raise them out during the day to perform work and duties and then they would be lowered back down at night where they had no way of getting out.  We have all had our own waterless pit experiences haven’t we?  Life has a way of creating pitfalls as the health of our spirits fall victim to despair and hopelessness.  We feel like we’re in a rut.  We’re not happy at work or happy in our relationships or happy with our physical status, and instead of reaching for God, we reach for a bottle, a drug, mindless entertainment or worse.  But our psalm today is a fresh slap in the face to wake us out of our stupor!

The words in Psalm 145 direct our eyes away from life’s challenges and disappointments and redirects us to the steadfast love, grace and compassion of a God who holds dominion over everything at every time.   It speaks of his faithfulness and describes his power and glory and splendor as found in his kingdom.  As children of this living God, we are all part of that kingdom.   No matter how bad it seems in this fleeting shadow of a life, we need to remember God.  And as verse 14 reminds us, when we remember him, he is faithful to uphold us who fall, and lift us up when we are down.  We can’t escape feeling bad at times.  We can’t avoid the despair this life brings.  That’s because if truth be told, this physical world is one big waterless pit of sin isn’t it?   Anyone who has ever been in an actual pit knows that no matter where you sit, stand or touch, you’re going to get dirt on you; which leads us to Paul’s dilemma in Romans.

You’ve no doubt heard many a sermon on this topic of being stuck in a condition of sin, so I won’t belabor the point too much.  I’ll just agree with the man that since we’re here on earth, living in this physical world of endless and relentless temptation, we are going to do things we know we shouldn’t.  It’s a pathetic predicament to say the least.  The two points to remember here are that; first - the law, as summed up in the Ten Commandments and expounded on in the Sermon on the Mount, will always remind us of our sinful natures in this world, and second – we have a real way to lift ourselves out of this earthly pit of sin.  It’s by grabbing onto the forgiving hand of Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us up, out and far away from the pits of sin that plague this world.   For that truth I repeat Paul’s closing remark in verse 25; “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” 

Paul tells it like it is and then points to a solution to the problem.  So finally we’re out of the woods, right?  Yeahhh……NO!  Unfortunately, we are sometimes still, the dumb kids sitting in the marketplace, calling out to one another….”I played the church organ and you didn’t sing.  I asked for prayer and you sent a text message.  For some churches speak in tongues and we say they scare us, yet other churches speak softly and we say they have no spirit.”   OK, so I paraphrased a little to provide a contemporary perspective.   The point is this; Jesus was tired of preaching to an unmoved, unchanging people, namely the Jews of his day.  Does this message apply to us here today?  That’s for God to decide.  My biased opinion is that we’re not nearly as bad as they were, but it’s that very self serving opinion that puts me back into a pit!   If this message speaks to your heart in a convicting way, then pray about how you might change.  If not, then pray for how others might change and how you can help them. 

I want to summarize Matthew 11, verses 20 through 24 as a lead in to what Jesus is thankful for in verse 25.  The missing verses are what you might call a parallel contrast by the Lord of contemporary cities of that day and older, ancient cities and how they each responded to the word of the Lord.  He compares Korazin and Bethsaida of his day to the ancient cities of Tyre and Sidon, saying if the miracles performed in Korazin and Bethsaida were performed in Tyre and Sidon, the people would have all repented in sackcloth and ashes.  Then stepping it up a notch, he does the same with Capernaum and Sodom.  Ouch!!!  And he says it will be better for Sodom on the Day of Judgment then it will be for the people of Capernaum.  Important piece of information; the bible says Jesus was speaking in Galilee at the time.  Inside the region of Galilee, probably within a short day’s walk were Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum.  He was ragging on the people right in there own back yard. 

So with that information as a baseline, Jesus thanks his father for hiding these truths from the rich and religious and instead, sharing them with the poor and lowly, the simple minded and humble people of Middle East middle class.  Why does he thank the father for that?   Here’s where we need to connect some dots.  In Zechariah, God speaks to us, begging us not to lose hope or give up on our faith. In the Psalm, he reminds us that he is a God of grace and compassion who invites us into his everlasting kingdom of love.  Paul stands as our representative, confessing our sins and sinful tendencies and then attaches us to the Lord Jesus Christ where we play the role of the rescued.  And then Jesus himself, clearly frustrated with those who refuse to listen, thanks his father in Heaven for us today.   Why do I say us?  Because we are hear right now, listening.  We may not be that special in any social realms of this world.   Truth be told, we’re just ordinary people, whose death would blend in with the rest on the obituary list found in the back of the local section of any American news paper.  We’re not headline or front page material; at least not to the world.  But guess who else falls into that bucket?  Jesus does.  Isaiah foretells of a rejected messenger in chapter 53 where it says:

 

1 Who has believed our message

   and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,

   and like a root out of dry ground.

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,

   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,

   a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.

Like one from whom people hide their faces

   he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

 

I think Jesus was thankful because he found some who would listen and follow with honest hearts like ours.  Normal, everyday people who know they sin but don’t want to, and know life’s burdens are heavy and need rest.  Could you imagine how Jesus must of felt?  Jesus was a relative nobody who had an emotionally tough life.  As a child, he was most likely mocked as being a goodie two shoes, picked on and beaten up by more popular kids.  His father Joseph died so he had no man in the house to talk to.  He knew he was different.  He most likely suffered from depression.  He could see sin that most people couldn’t or wouldn’t (much like today) and it weighed very heavily on him. His whole life was one long temptation to give up and stop caring so much, but he couldn’t.  That’s why he suffered, because he loved, God’s way, which always causes the greatest pain.

But in some ordinary people of his day, and yes in us also today, he gives thanks to the Father for revealing the truth and liberty of real love.  It lifts me up to think that because I’m up here today, I am blessing his heart.  And because you got out of bed and came here today, you are blessing his heart as well.  So be assured that even in this waterless pit of a world, we do have hope.  We have good reason to worship and we have a place we can find rest.  In fact we have three perfect reasons to have one thankful heart.  We have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit!  Amen!!

 

 

Preached 5/1/11

Sermon for Second Sunday in Easter                                        

Readings: Acts 2:14a, 22-23, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31

 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father we thank you for your word of promise and for your son who delivers on it.   Though we have not seen him with our physical eyes, fill us with your Holy Spirit so that we may always see him through eyes of faith, and come to a deeper appreciation of the promise of salvation we have in him.  In Jesus’ name,  Amen.

 

The first reading today is a bit misleading to me and I’ll explain why in a minute.  The over arching point of it is that, filled with the Holy Spirit, we can all witness the power of God over death through faith in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

 

There are five main people or peoples identified in this reading and, believe it or not, you and I are one of them.    The five, in order of appearance are, the Israelites to whom this message is directed; Jesus of Nazareth; God the Father who, through Jesus, displayed deeds of power, wonders and signs; Gentiles, of which you and I belong, who are called “those outside the law” and finally David, whom Peter quotes.   There is also a sixth person involved which would be the Holy Spirit who is the underlying messenger throughout this entire story, including the Psalm of David mentioned in verse 25.

 

Peter uses facts that are evidently indisputable by his audience to help drive his point to the Jewish community when he calls them out as eye witnesses in verse 22, saying that they themselves know that God performed miracles, signs and wonders through Jesus.  He then uses the scriptures they should all know by quoting King David and points out that this quote is actually a foretelling of the Messiah’s power over death.  But this is where I feel it was a bit misleading.  Not that the fundamental point is wrong, but I just want to share with you how I see it so that you too can understand why Jews, then and now, might argue over it.

    Peter shares the quote in verse 25 saying “For David says concerning him, “Him” being Christ the Lord or the Holy One;  I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart is glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope.  For you will not abandon my soul to Hades (which is death) or let your Holy One experience corruption.  You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.

Now some Bibles interpret verse 27’s, the “Holy One”, as the “faithful one” or anyone truly faithful to God.  In fact, that’s the way many Jews interpret this verse today.  And when you read it a couple times, you can see why they would.  But Peter uses this verse to point out that even though David believed this, he’s still dead.  In verse 29 he plainly points this out.  He says to the crowd, “King David died and was buried and by the way, any one of us can go right now and visit his tomb.”   The obvious point being that they can’t do the same for Jesus because his tomb is now empty.   All this I can agree with.  But then I think he uses a slight of hand when he re-quotes David and changes the words to say “He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.”    The original quote with the word “MY”was clearly David speaking of his own soul but Peter’s second interpretation implies David was speaking of someone else’s soul.  He then goes on to point to Jesus as the one God raised up and states that Peter and the other apostles are all witnesses to that fact.  

 

This is one of those passages I read and I say to myself…”That’s not right!”  There are enough facts presented here that stand for themselves and uphold the truth of the resurrection without changing David’s MY to HE.   I asked Pastor about this at the breakfast last week and he said it was common for the apostles and some scholars to be what he called “fast and loose” with interpretations of scripture.  For the record, I think two words I’d rather not have pop up when describing anything to do with my faith are “fast and loose”!  But that’s just me.

 

Am I saying Peter is a liar or a trickster here?  No I’m not!  But I bring this up to show you that there’s nothing wrong with being critical of the Bible as long as, being truly faithful to God, your heart is in the right place.  And that place is clearly, accurately and rightfully defined in Psalm 16 verse 8 where it says  “Set the Lord your God always before you!”  As long as you make it a point in your life to keep close to his left side as a follower, you will never be shaken.  Does this mean the world won’t shake around you?  No it doesn’t, and to Saint Peter’s credit, he explains this in our second reading.

 

   1 Peter 1:3-9 holds an answer to one of the biggest questions about God you will ever hear.  That is, why do we suffer?  If God loves us, why does he allow us to experience pain?  Laura Story has what I call a view changing song out on the radio entitled “Blessings”.  It’s one of those songs you hear and say to yourself, “WOW, I never looked at it that way!”  Your homework today is to go home and find it on YouTube and listen to it.  You’ll no doubt get more out of that 3 minute song then the 20 minutes of your life I’m robbing from you up here!  For now, allow me to share the first part with you.  It goes like this.

We pray for blessings

We pray for peace

Comfort for family, protection while we sleep

We pray for healing, for prosperity

We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

All the while, You hear each spoken need

Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

 

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops

What if Your healing comes through tears

What if a thousand sleepless nights

Are what it takes to know You’re near

What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

 

     Peter shares a viewpoint in verse 6 that basically says when we use our faith as a tool to endure the trials of life, we will gain for ourselves praise and honor and glory when we finally meet Jesus face to face.  What a beautiful way to look at such a hard part of this human experience.  I’m sure there are people here who sometime in their lives, maybe even now, had no other place to turn except their faith.

With all the evil and death and destruction in the world pulling us away from God, what could be more merciful than for God to work with us to tune our souls to his in a way that is guaranteed to get our attention?  Think about it.  We act only when we feel the need to act.  It’s a basic natural truth in our physical world.  We don’t nourish our bodies unless we feel hunger or quench our throats unless we feel thirst.   The lack of comfort is a correction for our lives as we naturally take action to seek comfort out.  Our trials could be as simple as putting on slippers on a cold morning or a blanket on a cold night.  When we are injured we bandage ourselves, and if we get sick we take medicine.  And always in small and big ways we learn two things through every trial.  We learn appreciation and we learn faith.

 

We learn to appreciate things like warmth and health.  We appreciate the physical sustenance of food and drink.  With the experience of discomfort, we learn to appreciate comfort.   Webster’s dictionary defines appreciation this way; to judge with heightened perception or understanding: to be fully aware of.  Doesn’t that sound like something God would want for us regarding His presence?   Sometimes our appreciation takes a very long time to learn.  For some it may take a lifetime.   But when we compare our lives to eternity, a lifetime is not that long to learn something as significant as an appreciation for the presence of God. 

 

Let me make one thing very clear here.  I am not saying God causes us pain and suffering.  Life in an evil world of death and destruction is what causes the pain and suffering.  But I am saying that God, who uses all things for good, uses even these to pull us closer to him.  He uses our trials, big and small, to teach us to appreciate who and what he is in the grand scheme of things.  The tricky part is that most of us don’t learn appreciation for God until we step out in faith.

 

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  Peter links this concept to our salvation in verse 8 when he says “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving (or I’ll add here, gaining a deeper appreciation for) the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 

 

As children of God, we need to believe that when we suffer in this life there is a purpose to it.  This can be an incredible task for us because the level of discomfort is sometimes off the charts.  The word “discomfort” doesn’t even begin to describe the excruciating pain we endure at times.  Why does God allow that in our lives?  I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that every person in this church right now has gone through some form of pain and suffering in life, some much more than others.  

 

Why do some carry such heavy burdens?  Why do any of you have to deal with suffering if God is a God of love and mercy and compassion? 

 

The answer is in 1 Peter and in that song.  Maybe it takes a thousand sleepless nights to know that God is near.  Maybe sometimes, for some of us, it takes immeasurable suffering in this relatively short physical lifespan to gain the eternal praise and honor and glory we will enjoy in the next when Jesus Christ is revealed.  I know it doesn’t seem fair from this side of heaven that some people suffer so very much while others don’t.  And that my brothers and sisters, is exactly were faith is found.  We don’t have insight to the grand scheme of things from this side of Heaven.  We don’t have all the answers but we can have appreciation for the comfort God has given us in the past and promises to give us in the not too distant eternal future.  

 

So I will end with a reminder found in today’s gospel.  The reminder is that just like the apostles who sat cowering in an upper room, struggling with the fears of the day, Jesus is here with us now.   Like them, we will not see him turning the door knob and opening the door.  We won’t see him walk down the isle.   But if we close our physical eyes for just a moment and, in faith believe…we will see him with spiritual eyes and we will feel the peace he offers us.  

 

We do have assurance today and always that all we need to do is ask, and God’s Holy Spirit will be given to us.  No matter where we are or what crushing circumstance we are under, we can still, at any time, cry out to God our Father and be heard and comforted.  And wherever two or more are gathered in his name, Jesus is there among us.  And even though we may not see with our physical eyes, blessed are we who still believe and know this to be true!    Amen!       

 

 Preached:  10/24/10

Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22

Psalm 84:1-7

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Luke 18:9-14

 

Prayer:

Father God we thank you for being a God of love and mercy.  We pray Lord that, as you walk with us each day of our lives, you bless us with the wisdom to humbly hold tight to your hand and follow your lead.   We thank you so much for the sacrifice you made through your son Jesus and we once again invite your Holy Spirit into our hearts as you reveal your will to us through your amazing and beautiful word.  Amen! 

 

Reading Jeremiah, it almost seems that he is arguing with himself.  The jump from verse 10 to verse 19 is deceiving so to understand it better, I read the whole chapter.  Verses 1-6 gives a graphic depiction of what drought was like back at that time; people crying, empty cisterns, cracked ground and animals wondering around in a stupor.  Verses 11 through 18 express how God is fed up with his people’s lack of commitment, compounded by all the false prophets of the day who misrepresent God’s truth. 

Due to false prophesies of peace and providence, the people, who confess to be called by His name, don’t understand why they’re suffering.  They think their hearts and minds are in a right place with God but they aren’t.  Much like the Psalmist in Psalm 84, they think God is in the midst of them and they are dwelling with him.  But actually, as they suffer the drought, they are worlds apart from the Psalmist’s balsam valley, the place of springs where the early rains make beautiful pools of water.  And as you can imagine, water was everything to them.

 

Water is life.  Whenever you read about possible life on other planets, it always centers on finding evidence of water.  The first biblical mention of the earth involved water.  Genesis 1:2 says this - Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  Even today, the most valuable resource we own as a physical planet is water.  

 

But water is also very symbolic in the Bible.  It symbolizes God’s life giving spirit that sustains us.  It cleanses us.  It refreshes us.  It animates our life.  Yet much like the proverbial horse, God can provide water but it is us who need to make the conscious decision to drink it.  This is where these people in Jeremiah’s day, and in Paul’s day, and even still in our present day, refuse to drink and suffer the consequences of a spiritual drought.

 

Jeremiah was a lot like the Apostle Paul in some ways.  As hard as he worked to get the word of God to the people, there were always others out there spreading lies and poisoning the fold.   Both Jeremiah and Paul began their lives in relative comfort and priestly training, only to follow God into a dark valley of resistance and struggle in the name of spreading the truth of God.  Jeremiah’s truth was that Israel had broken the covenant with God and payment was at hand, although some of his last prophesies were of a hope for the restoration of Israel to God.  

 

One could say that Paul’s words picked up from there because they were always about hope.   They pointed to the same will of God but with an acute difference in perspective.  While the God of Jeremiah condemned, the Christ of Paul saved.  Today’s reading in 2nd Timothy reaffirms Paul’s main ministry message, which is that no matter what happens in this life, Jesus Christ will always be with you.  I don’t know about you but for me, that fact makes all the difference in life.  In a world of pain and confusion, I will always have hope!

 

Now, to get back to the spiritual drought issue, we need to ask ourselves this question; with the amazing benefits of God’s grace and mercy for those who are called by his name, why on earth would people not drink?  Why do we refuse to bring God’s love fully into our lives?  What blocks us from setting our will aside and eagerly embracing the perfect will of God?  We can find the answer in our Gospel story.  It’s a chronic human condition known as Personal Resistance Involving Delusional Edification.   A show of hands, who here has heard of this condition?   Maybe you’re more familiar with it’s acronym; P-R-I-D-E.   Pride!

 

I’ll break it down quickly:

 

Personal – meaning you and I individually hold this in our heart

Resistance – unwillingness to accept or conform

Involving – to be physically and mentally engaged in, as a current state of being

Delusional – a fervent commitment to a factually wrong interpretation

Edification - instruction and improvement in moral and religious knowledge  

 

Man, when I break it down like that, it really makes more sense.  I personally resist, both physically and mentally because I am wrongly convinced somehow that I know how to be moral and knowledgeable about the will of God.    It reminds me of another human condition known as Personal Understanding Transcending Zen, otherwise known as being a PUTZ.

 

The story that Jesus shares in Luke 18:9-14 is an attempt by our Lord and Savior to open our eyes to how we are supposed to be in our hearts.  We don’t need pride, we need humility.  We can’t afford to compare ourselves to each other.  When we do we cause pain to others and detriment to ourselves and our relationship with God.  

 

I want to share with you that I know a modern day Pharisee personally.  I know someone who has a mother in law that, in the spirit of being civil, amazes me to no end!  This is a woman who, for years has been very active in her church.  Her husband teaches Bible classes and is one of the most humble people I’ve ever met, but this woman?  She is the most self righteous, spiteful and hurtful “Christian” I know.  Every time I read this story, I think of her.  

 

The sad thing is that, because of her pride, she doesn’t see the contempt people have for her or the very real shame she brings on her family.  It’s sad because she should be a beaming light for others to look up to but instead, she’s a person no one wants to be around and they avoid at all cost.  She is the person atheists point to and say, if that’s what Christianity is about, you can keep it.  Do you know anyone like that?  If you do I would encourage you to add them to your prayer list.  They need our prayers.

 

In my book I share some sobering facts that lend themselves to the promotion of humility.  I talk about our smallness in the grand scheme of creation.  To set the tone, I’ll refer to the first chapter of Hebrews, verses one and two; 

 

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”

 

When astronomers talk about our universe they use an adjective to more accurately portray it.  They place the word “known” before the word universe because they are fully aware that our technical capabilities are still somewhat limited and we have yet to reach a point where we see an end to creation. 

Just so we have some basics down, we measure space in “light years”.  A light year is the distance light will travel in a 365 day year.  Light travels at a speed of 186 thousand miles per second or roughly 671 million miles per hour.  So let’s do some math; 

365(days) x 24(hrs per day) x 671 million (mph) = 5 trillion, 788 billion, 960 million miles per light year

 

Does your head hurt yet?  If not, consider this estimated fact; the edge of the “known” universe is approximately…are you ready?...46.5 BILLION LIGHT YEARS AWAY!!   Somewhere in the middle of this unbelievable expanse we call our known universe, there is a tiny thing called the Milky Way Galaxy.  This very tiny spec in the known universe is a mere 100,000 light years in diameter and only about 1000 light years thick.  Not much compared to the “grand” scheme of things.  Our Earth is estimated to be about 26,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way galaxy.   The Solar System in which our planet spins is roughly 7.35 billion miles across.  It’s not very big; a mere .001 light years across.

           

Hebrews continues to hint at the actual size of God in chapter 4, verse 13 where Paul says:

 

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

 

Try if you can to imagine a God so big that the whole universe (not just the part we know about) is laid out before him like a piece of paper for him to read.  Every part of it at every level is plainly revealed to him who formed it all in the palm of his hands.           

Louie Giglio created a “Passion Talk Series” that includes an incredible, awe inspiring DVD presentation he titles “Indescribable”.  In it he demonstrates, far better then I can do here, the infinitely boundless size of God.  Here’s what he says to a crowd in Houston, Texas as he shares his thoughts.  He says:

 

“I’m not saying all this to make you feel small.  I’m saying all this to remind you that you ARE small!”

 

This guy is good!   With that one phrase he hit the nail right on the head.  Who do we really think we are anyway?  We are so small compared to the size of our planet.  Our planet is like a tiny piece of dust floating in a stadium sized galaxy.  Our galaxy is but one of hundreds of billions in the known universe….all of which is held in the palm of a loving creator God.

All this said; never forget that as infinitely small as we are, God still knows each of us by name.  We’ll never be able to grasp the vastness of his love but we can certainly have faith in it.  We can also strive to have faith in each other, and in that, share the vastness of his love with one another.  But we cannot do it with proud and haughty hearts.  We need to be deliberately humble in our view of other people and especially in our approach to God.

The point of the gospel story is that, whether we think we are repentant criminals or righteous ministers, we are still ALL sinners in the eyes of God and we need him to heal us.   We are a hurting nation these days but we do have hope.  I will end with this popular and poignant Bible verse taken from 2 Chronicles 7:14:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

             

Peached  July 25, 2010

Readings:          Acts 16:16-34

                        Psalm 97

                        Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

                        John 17:20-26

 

Prayer:   Heavenly Father, as we exist in this physical place, please help us to remember that we are spiritual children in need of your love.  Help us and teach us the plan that you have designed for our lives.   Draw us closer to you Father through faith in your Son and the power of your spirit, that we may all be one in you throughout eternity.  Amen! 

 

I have to admit that I didn't know where to start with these readings.  Each one is so extraordinary and filled with such miracles, insight and meaning that it's hard to hold back.  We go from a face to face encounter with spiritual possession to a miraculous earthquake, to a whole family coming to Christ.  We then jump to an ultra graphic Psalm that clearly shows the intensity of the spiritual world dwarfing the physical world. Then for some reason we are taken to the very last chapter of the last book of the Bible where we are both warned of Christ's return and invited to get on the right side of it.  And finally, we are left with a profound prayer by Jesus himself who is speaking to His Father, for who specifically; those who will believe in Him through the words His apostles write.  That's us folks, in case you missed it.  He prayed 2000 years ago for you and I who are here today.  

I can take each one of these readings and go on for hours.  But as you know, I like to look for a common message within the collection.  Let’s see if we can find one. 

The first reading shows how the power of God can set us free.  That's obvious.  

- The slave girl is set free from a demon

- The apostles are set free from their prison cells

- The jailer and his whole family are set free from the bondage of sin and superstition.

 

And all of this happened because the will of God was allowed to work through the hearts of His apostles.  

 

Thee Psalm then educates us on the unapproachable power of God.  When I read of clouds and thick darkness, I can't help but recall the images on 9/11 where as the towers fell, this huge cloud of death billowed forth, consuming everything in its path.  If the earth shakes and mountains melt like wax, what chance would we puny little humans have getting anywhere near the Holiness of God? 

 

It then goes on to clearly warn us puny little humans not to trust any other gods but the one true God.  It also promises joy for the righteous. In my last sermon I shared my understanding of righteousness as being in "A state or degree in which we exist according to the nature of our intended design".  We are designed to be in the will of God.  And not only be in His will, but we are to allow His will to work through our hearts so that through us He can love others.

 

In the reading from the book of Revelation, Jesus brings eternity into view.  In verse 12 He says that He is the first and the last, the Beginning and the End.  In verse 16 He says He is both the root and the offspring of David.  That means that He was who David grew from (being the root) and at the same time, the promised perpetual Kingship that came from David's lineage (being the offspring of David).  In essence, Jesus is sharing the reality of eternity by saying these things.   If we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we need to appreciate the importance of Jesus’ emphasis of eternity here on the very last page of His word.

 

In verse 13 Jesus says "Blessed are those who wash their robes".  That's symbolism for the righteous ones.  These are the ones who live according to God's will and design for humanity.  In verse 17 He extends the invitation to those of us who are thirsty for Gods' direction and influence in our lives.  Who’s thirsty for God this morning?

 

So to summarize, God is telling us that He is eternal and that we are part of an eternal plan.  It is a plan designed to bless us if we put God first and allow His will to guide our lives.  But we have to choose to follow Him.  That’s not easy.  Every day we need to choose God instead of ourselves and that takes real discipline.  And if I may point out, much like the jailer in the first reading, we men are the spiritual leaders of our houses, like it or not.  We hold our family’s eternal destiny in our hands.   We need to be the solid root grounded in the Word, so that our offspring will grow strong in the will of God.  Look again at verse 12: "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”  Let’s make no mistake here men; we are going to be held accountable for what we’ve done and what we’ve left undone.   Let’s learn to love the way God intended so we get that reward.

 

Now, as not to disregard all the beautiful women sitting here today, you also play a critical role in keeping God first in your house.  It’s very true what they say that behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes!  We men need you women to love us and be patient with us and forgive us so that we are reminded of the love and patience and forgiveness of God.   But for you to be able to do that, we need to love you and honor you the way God does.  And that leads us into the prayer Jesus prayed for us in John 17.

 

How do we become one in spirit?  How do a husband and wife get to the point where they fully agree and support each other in their hearts?  How can people from different backgrounds, different age groups and economic levels all come to be one in spirit?  This concept is very profound and takes work to understand.

 

Let’s start out by stating a basic truth.  We each have an individual spirit within us.  Our real being is more spirit then it is physical.  The physical comes and goes.  We’re young and healthy and attractive and then before you know it, we older and not as healthy and not as attractive.  Eventually we grow old and we’re weak and wrinkly.  That’s just a fact of this physical life.  However, at our core, the real you and the real me; are eternal spiritual beings.   Our physical bodies each house one.  It’s one of the main purposes of our physical bodies.  It is a vessel for our spirit to move around in while in this physical realm. 

 

Now, the Bible shares stories of multiple spirits inhabiting a single body.  In the first reading, the slave girl had her spirit being crowded out by a demonic spirit.   What we never see in the Bible is a single demonic spirit possessing many people at the same time.  The biblical evidence implies that the created spirit, whatever it is, is not made to work that way.  Created spirits are always individual and apart from God, limited to that individuality.   

 

So if we are all individual spirits, how can we become one in spirit like Jesus prays for?   The answer is in the Holiness and the Glory of God.  It’s like a mathematical formula of balance, where the Creator is of one endless and all consuming power source and each created spiritual life is an individual segregation or fraction of that power, which can either rejoin, or become opposed, to the original source.   God is the over arching source of all life and all lives.  As individual fractions of that life source, we have the ability to rejoin Him in spirit or reject Him and remain separated.  But we don’t have the ability to join our individual life fractions or spirits together apart from going through Him.  

 

Since God speaks of the water of life, I’ll use water as an example of what I’m trying to express.  Let’s say God is the ocean.  He, as the Creator, sprays forth individual drops of water, each one representing a created one of us.  Now imagine if at any time we could join our water drops back to Him and draw from the power of the ocean.   However, we, being individual drops of water can never join each other to make a single united drop.  Imagine if we just bounced off each other? 

 

Try to imagine that being the way it is where drops of water can only join in unity if they join the ocean.  Otherwise, they stay separated and limited to the strength and weight of a single drop.  As we join the ocean we experience all its glory and holiness but if we stubbornly choose to stay separated, we are limited and at risk of drying up.

 

I believe that this is what Jesus is praying for and in the prayer, trying to explain to us.  I believe that our spirits are designed to be one with God first and then through that willful act on our part, we are allowed to be one with each other as we are one with Him.  Without God there is division and struggle for control.  But through God there is perfect unity.  That’s the glory of the Holy Spirit.  It allows and promotes oneness in the body of Christ.  That’s why, on average, marriages and relationships that put God first succeed while ones that stay separated from God as individuals often fail or don’t thrive like they should. 

 

It’s very important that we, as Christians, understand the mechanics of this.  We live in a material world but we’re not really of this world.  We are in truth, eternal spiritual beings that are just passing through this world.  We need to think eternally.  When we do, we’ll be drawn closer to Gods’ plan for our lives which is a real and abiding relationship with Him.  Then, as we align our will with God’s will, He teaches us through His Holy Spirit how to love each other the way we are supposed to.

 

So with all of these amazing truths we’ve read laid out next to each other, can we find an underlying connection and message from God?   The answer is yes we can.  And it’s not at all surprising that it’s the same message it always is.  The point of all these readings is to help us see that there is real power and purpose in placing God first in our lives and aligning ourselves to His will.  The point is that we are all part of a much greater source of life then what we see here in this fleeting physical world.  The point is that if we choose to join with God and follow His lead, we will have blessing and ever lasting life and we will experience a quality of love that cannot be experienced any other way.

 

All of it; every word, points us to a decision we need to make.  It is the starting point and what we were designed to do.  Like the jailer and his family, like the earth and all of creation, like the angels in Heaven and the apostles of old, we need to decide in our hearts to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.  We need to humble ourselves and raise Him up as first in our lives.  If we do that, we will be blessed and through our obedience and submitted hearts, He will bless others, that the world will know that He is Gods Son.  When we resign our spirits to choose Jesus as Lord, then and only then, we will all be one!  Amen!              

 

 Preached  February 28, 2010 

 

Readings:  Main point:  Genesis 18:20-32;    We don’t change God’s mind, He changes our understanding of  Him           

 Psalm 138: 1-8; God is faithful to answer when we call and will succeed in fulfilling our purpose Colossians 2:6-19; everything is secondary to our relationship with Jesus Christ                                                   

Luke 11:1-13; above all other needs, we need to pray for and receive the Holy Spirit

Over-arching point of this week’s message; we need God.  If we have God, we have everything we need.  The only way our life will have purpose is if we have God.  Everything else in life is relative and comparatively meaningless.   In fact, without God, there is no life. 

Prayer: Heavenly Father we come before you today, amazed at the fact that even though you are big enough to hold the universe in the palm of your hand, you love enough to care about each and every one of us.  Help us God to desire you the way you desire us.  We pray this in the name and honor of your son Jesus Christ.  Amen

            Needless to say, Abraham was an amazing human being.  He was a brave and faithful son, a shrewd business man, a

            fierce soldier, a devoted husband and a very loving father.  He was what I would call a very high caliber person.  And

            the book of Genesis makes it abundantly clear why he enjoyed such success.  He absolutely put God first in his life.

            Today’s story is misleading to the average reader.  It implies things that at first glance, diminish God’s abilities.  The

            first one we see in verse 20.  It says: Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and

            their sin so grievous  that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If

            not, I will know."

 

Now, does anyone here really think that God needed to actually go to these evil places to see for himself the evil that

took place?  Of course he didn’t.  God knew exactly what was happening.  So why would he say such a thing?  

Well, I’ll tell you!  He said it to kick start a conversation with Abraham.  He knew what was in Abraham’s heart. 

There was a misunderstanding there.  There was a part of Abraham that, much like all of us, didn’t fully understand the

mercy and love that God has for us.  So God baited him.  And Abraham went for it hook, line and sinker! 

 

Abraham, no doubt, had a very sound idea of what disturbing things went on in Sodom and Gomorrah.  He also knew

that God was a righteous God who could not, and would not tolerate such blatant evil.  I’m sure that Abraham’s first

thought was for the well being of his nephew Lot and his family.  In Abraham’s mind, his nephew was a worthy man

caught in an unholy position.  You only need to read the first 8 or 9 verses in chapter 19 to see that Lot was a

compromising weakling who, one could argue, may have taken part in the same acts of debauchery as everyone else in

the town.  The only difference is he may have had a sliver of conscience left.

 

So thinking God would destroy everyone, Abraham begins to bargain with God.  As a side point I need to highlight the

 relationship between God and Abraham here.  This text describes something you and I would and should do anything

to get; a physical, face to face encounter with God.   Could you imagine being that righteous and blameless before God

that you know him in physical form when you see him and are comfortable walking and talking with him?  This story

gives us a glimpse into the original plan God had for mankind.  It also hints at the type of relationship we can expect if

we have God first in our lives when we die. 

 

We all know the story.  If there were fifty righteous, would that be enough to save the city?  How about forty five,

forty, thirty, twenty, ten?  My guess is that Jesus would have gone down to one righteous person.  But did Jesus go

there with a mind to kill everyone, only to be talked out of it by Abraham?  Of course he didn’t.  Here again, The Lord

was playing with Abraham in a way that would ultimately teach Abraham about the heart of God.  Abraham wasn’t

changing God’s mind, God was educating his.

 

I’m going to leave that thought hanging in your mind for now and move on to Psalm 138.  Just as Genesis gives us

Abraham who is a man after God’s heart, David’s psalm also displays his deep appreciation for God’s faithfulness, as

well as an appreciation for the magnitude of God’s glory and love.   But my favorite message in this piece is found in

verse eight.  It reads:  “You will make good your purpose for me.”  That one verse expresses three very important

truths.  First, “You will” confesses a faith in the fact that God is in control and active in directing David’s path.  Second,

“make good” is a witness to the blessings and providence that define God as a good and loving Lord of David’s life. 

God is a God of goodness and blessing.  All good things come from God.  David knows that and so should we.  The

third truth is the reason you and I have breath and life.  The truth is that we are here for a purpose.  The phrase

“your purpose for me” confirms not just any purpose, but God’s purpose.  He created you and me for a reason.  He

has a plan and is working that plan out, even despite us.  There is a lot of peace to be had in our lives by holding on to

that one truth.

 

There’s a common thread that weaves through these readings in Genesis and Psalms.  In both cases, the mortals

involved have a deep and abiding relationship with an immortal God.  They walk with God and talk with God.  They

bring him both praise and prayer.  They see God as the very foundation of life and ultimately God is the only one they

are responsible to; not their wives, not their families, not the kings of the world, but God.  Everything and everyone else

comes secondary to their relationship with God. 

 

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he too expresses the weight of this truth in his life.  He emphasizes the importance of

clinging fast to the Word made flesh because he knows that this Word is genuine and the original life source that all

truth comes from.  Paul is surrounded by contemporary Theologians and Philosophers that point in every direction for

answers.  He is understandably worried about this young, fledgling church being misdirected by the winds of humanity’s

pride and presumptions.  His message is a bit hidden but crystal clear as it completes verse 17.  “The substance

 belongs to Christ!”    I may have my interpretations and Pastor has his and you all have yours but the one thing we can

all count on is that Jesus is the one sharing the truth.  He owns it.  He is it.  And that fact puts us squarely at his feet

asking how to get it.  And to that he answers with this:  Father in Heaven, Holy is your name.  Let your kingdom come. 

Let your will be done.  Give us each day what we need and forgive us because we forgive others.  Protect us from trials

and from the evil one.

 

Jesus himself, when asked about how to pray, how to come to God in conversation, how to carry an abiding

relationship with God; describes a dependence on God.   I could take a bunch of time and go through the Lord’s

Prayer line by line.  I would love to because no matter how many times we review it, it always seems to shed new light

on the grace and mercy of God.   But today I’d rather bring a different perspective.  I want to bring a perspective that

reflects our need from God’s point of view. 

 

When we pray to God, we usually bring our needs.  That’s nothing new.  We all have needs, and truth be told we tend

to abuse the word “need” in our prayers.  It’s amazing when we break down the list and remove all the fluff from our

supposed needs.  Kathy and I watched a disturbing movie called “The Road” a few weeks ago.  The story line

followed a father and son making their way south after an apocalyptic event that left all vegetation dead, all water

sources contaminated and food in dire shortage.  I won’t go into detail but suffice to say that what we really need was

very clearly defined in that story.

 

So I found it very interesting after studying the gospel story to read what God thinks we need.  To be fair, Jesus

covered some basics by asking for our daily needs in this physical realm.  But He went on to hint at, and then flat out

tell us in plain English what we need to make it through this life.   After his brief coverage of what we recite as the

Lord’s Prayer, he proceeds to tell a parable about a persistent neighbor.  If you skip to verse eight, you’ll see it ends

with three interesting words; “whatever he needs.”   If we accept that in the parable, God is the home owner and we

are the neighbor, then the parable is saying that if we are persistent, God will give us whatever it is we need.    That

doesn’t mean we’ll get whatever we ask for or whatever we want.   It means that we do need something that the home

owner has and if we ask, we’ll receive it.  It also seems to imply that we need to ask repeatedly so that we repeatedly

get whatever it is that the home owner has that we evidently need.

 

But what is it that we evidently need?  What is it that God is telling us to ask for?   Jesus continues to emphasize the

importance of us needing something in verses nine and ten.  He stresses the actions we should be practicing.  We need

 to ask.  We need to seek or search.  We need to knock.  These are things that God can’t do for us.  And it appears

that whatever this is that we need, God can’t force it on us.  We need to do our part and reach out for it.  But

whenever we do, God will be faithful to provide it for us.

 

Is it health?  Will God keep us healthy all the days of our life if we ask?  Many here know all to well that that’s not the

case.  Evidently that’s not what we need.  We sure want it.  But we don’t need it.  Is it wealth?  The common belief is

that money fixes all problems.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve actually prayed to God for money.  I’d love to be rich. 

Or at least I think I would.  But I’ve been broke enough times to know that I can survive without money.

 

Setting aside the basic physical needs like food, water, clothing and shelter that God already promised we’d get like the

birds of the air and the flowers of the field, there’s something that God is saying we really need, to not only live but fulfill

our purpose in this life as well as the next.  It’s not something we’re born with but it seems like something we need to

have before we die.  In fact, knowing God, it’s something that will be critical for us to have to enter the kingdom of

heaven.   

 

I think now’s a good time to recap.  I find that when I review what I’ve covered so far, it helps me keep things clear.  I

started out with God teaching Abraham about Himself.  Where Abraham sees God in a harsher role, God reveals his

love and grace.  Then I went through David’s understanding and deep appreciation of God and I emphasized that God

has a specific purpose for our lives.  I discussed Paul’s pleas to his church in Colossia to hold fast to the Word of God

and to not be distracted or derailed by human teaching.  Then I finished up with Jesus teaching us how to pray and then

telling us what to pray for.  In these readings it seems that the focus is once again to keep God first in our lives, to learn

from Him, appreciate Him, and allow Him to lead and guide us and to be careful not to confuse His teaching with

worldly teaching.  So what should we ask for from God that would help us to keep him in front of us, help us

appreciate him more and add clarity to our purpose in life?   The answer is simple.  It’s God.  

 

The answer is right there, strategically placed as the very last sentence of your Celebrate Bulletin readings. 

Luke 11: 13  says:  “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more

will the Heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

 

Every aspect of God’s relationship to mankind has been an outpouring of himself.   God breathed life into Adam.  He

was there with Moses, with Abraham, with David, and with countless prophets and priests.  Whether it was as a pillar

of fire or through the voices of angels, all Israel knew God was there.  And as the depravity of man brings us closer to

the edge of the Abyss, God gives us his one and only son, as both a sacrifice and a light to follow in the darkness. 

Jesus continues the outpouring with his own blood.  He lives after death to show us that his way is the only true way to

God.  He tells us that he is sending his Holy Spirit to bring us the rest of the way.  Can you see the connection?  Do

you see the plan?  Is there anyone here who still doesn’t understand why we’re here?

 

Pastor always says that repetition in the Bible is important.  If  God’s message is important and note worthy because he

says it twice, or even three times, then we had better pay attention to Luke 11:13 because The Holy Spirit is mentioned

105 times throughout the old and new testaments.  If 2 or 3 is important, then 105 times has to be absolutely critical! 

Jesus himself makes a point of telling us in plain, easy to understand words that the Holy Spirit is what we should

persistently pray for.  Ask any of the Apostles and they’ll tell you he never said anything in plain, easy to understand

words!   My take is that He desperately wants us to get this message!   Pray, every day to receive the Holy Spirit. 

Put a post- it-note on your alarm clock and on your TV.   Send yourself a recurring instant message.   Whatever you

need to do to remind yourself to do this, do it!   It’s importance is Eternal!

 

To close this message, I will share just three passages with you.

 

John 14:26

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you

of everything I have said to you. 

Romans 5:5

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he

 has given us.  

2 Corinthians 13:14

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 

Amen!