Category: Weekly Sermon

Evil Transformed – Genesis 45:1-15

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Today’s Old Testament reading occurs about three fourths of the way through the account of Joseph, his family and his adventures in Egypt. After several encounters with his brothers in Egypt when they did not recognize him, interacted with him only as governor, and in chapters 43:19-44:34, he charged his brothers with theft, Joseph lost control of himself and emptied his house of everyone except him and his brothers. He broke down in tears and revealed himself to his brothers, asking if his father was still alive. Joseph revealing his identity to his brothers is the climax of a narrative about power, family loyalty and betrayal, and above all, the divine oversight of human affairs. The brothers are stunned as they realize that the pampered and resented younger brother (with the coat of many colors; spoiled rotten) that they sold into slavery decades before, and the one they presumed to be “no more” is alive and very well–well off! He survived their abuse and has become the second most powerful man in all Egypt. Joseph is now overseer of the region inhabited by Jacob’s sons.

Once persecuted and ensnared by an evil plot, Joseph is now in a position to shower God’s mercy to transform the evil acts of his brothers. He could have been arrogant and sang Mac Davis’ song, “It’s Hard to Be Humble:”

Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror ‘cos I get better looking each day. To know me is to love me: I must be a hell of a man. O Lord it’s hard to be humble but I’m doing the best that I can.”

Think about the issues of elementary school kids today on the playground and in the classroom with bullying. No one likes a bully or a braggart. Joseph’s dreams about his brothers bowing down to him in obeisance caused a sore spot to fester in each of his brothers’ hearts. Joseph got the pretty coat from his father and had sympathy from his father because his mother had died giving birth to his younger brother, Benjamin. At seventeen years old Joseph even dreamed that his brothers were like sheaves of wheat bowing down to him and they questioned his authority over them. The brothers were exceedingly jealous. They did not want to hear Joseph brag about being superior to them. In reality, Joseph was not trying to brag or “lord over” his brothers, but God was weaving a plan for Joseph. He was following the life that God had prepared for him. He would be incorporated into a plan that seemed evil at the onset–his own brothers wanted to kill him out of jealousy for attention and power, an evil plot for sure, but an older brother did not want Joseph’s blood on his conscience forever. So, instead, Joseph was sold into slavery and the brothers were rid of him, they thought.

As a slave in Egypt, Joseph rose to a position of responsibility in the household of an Egyptian official. He was falsely accused of making advances to Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison–captured again! Still part of God’s plan. Joseph is aware that it is God who has made him successful. When Pharoah remarks about Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams, Joseph says, “I is not I; God will give Pharoah a favorable answer.” God given dreams about Joseph’s brothers bowing down to him have become a reality. Joseph recognizes his brothers, who have come to Egypt to buy grain in the midst of a famine in Canaan. Joseph now holds the lives of his brothers in his hands. It is the perfect scenario for revenge. Joseph does not gloat and say, “I told you so.” He uses the opportunity to test his brothers before telling them that this powerful Egyptian official is in fact their long lost-not dead-brother. Joseph could not stand hiding his identity and had to tell his brothers the truth. “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” If you had plotted to kill your brother or a good friend who was portrayed as family, and “despised” him or her, never expecting to hear or see the person again, how would you feel about meeting them face-to-face and to know that they held the lucky card in a poker hand?

You might expect that Joseph would talk about his trials and how he made it from the pit to the palace. But Joseph does not see his brothers as groveling fans, nor does he list all of his accomplishments. Instead, he has them come closer to tell them, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold in Egypt. Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves. God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph sees his life through the lens of God’s purposes. If he is going to brag about anything, it is going to be about God. “God sent me before you to preserve a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. It was not you who sent me here, but God. God made me a father to Pharoah, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” Even though you intended to harm me (evil act), God intended it for good in order to preserve a numerous people” (transformation in action), as he is doing today. Joseph, who interpreted visions, has a vision of a God who will make things right. God created everything and called it “good” and Joseph sees that no matter what humans will do in their sinful, self-serving nature, it is God who will make it good again. In the end, humans have nothing to boast about unless we are boasting about our God.

It is God who reconciles a broken world and can reconcile even a broken family like Joseph’s or our own individual families. Only God’s grace makes that possible. Paul tells us in Romans 5:11, “We can boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom we have now received reconciliation.” God’s forgiveness is awesome. Joseph realized that God had blessed him with the ability to save his family and to forgive his brothers for washing their hands of their pesky, spoiled little brother, whom God used to save the remnant of Israel from starvation. Hope of survival came to Joseph’s family through the very brother they had rejected. Hate, disdain and evil deeds can be reshaped by God to accomplish God’s purposes. God only wants us to live with his purposes in mind.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Treading Deep Water – Matthew 14:22-33

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When I was in high school, I had to execute a life-saving dive from the diving board ten feet over the pool and tread water for five minutes to pass Physical Education. I have never been able to tolerate the chlorine in the pool; it makes my nose bleed on contact. So…I volunteered to go first after the instructions were given, figuring I would get it over as soon as possible. I jumped, my legs hit the water and then my arms, in what turned out to be the perfect dive–my head never went under the water and I had full view of the imaginary victim at all times as I treaded water. The teacher applauded and said, “That is the way it should be done.” I was so relieved and never had to repeat the dive—until I was a senior in college, visiting my cousin with my date and we were invited to go swimming in his pool. My date jumped in and his feet hit the slope of the decline to the deep end of the pool and he went under. He had had a collapsed lung from pneumonia two years prior to that event and I could see the panic on his face as he tried to surface. I jumped in with my life-saving dive–it worked again, but the victim pulled me under trying to get to the surface. My cousin kicked off his shoes and jumped in to help me. Every time I read this account in Matthew, I remember the fear my date had as he sank in the water. I remember Peter’s prayer, “Lord, save me!” I prayed that same prayer for my date that day–and for myself!

I think that everyday life is a stormy season–an ongoing monsoon that can swallow us whole when we least expect it. In Matthew 14 Jesus was tired. He had been grieving over his cousin, John the Baptist’s death and sought a space to be alone, but the crowds sought him even more. Last week we talked about Jesus feeding 5000 people with two small fish and five barley loaves. He spent time teaching and feeding and healing them–and then sent his disciples off so he could go up a mountain to pray and rest in the quiet eventide.

The disciples went out on the Sea of Galilee and a squall developed, buffeting the boat about and scaring them into believing that they might sink. They were too far out to wade back to shore. The wind was against them and they had been rowing hard. They were soaking wet, hungry and bone tired. Jesus was beginning to miss his friends in the wee hours of morning and did something so unimaginable. He walked out on the roaring sea towards the boat with his friends. “It is a ghost!” the sailors cried out in fear!

Do you ever have days like those of the disciples? Eighteen plus hours of work, meeting crabby demands of people like your boss and co-workers or customers, enduring sleepless nights because of sick family members or extended work hours, your car broke down just before the same freeway exit as it did on the previous day, you are hot, restless and exhausted and afraid because God seems more like a ghost or phantom than a rescuing, comforting savior? Maybe you have even gotten a challenging diagnosis from the doctor or a phone call during the night and you heard the voice of one of your kids say, “I have been in an accident.” Days like that come upon us with little warning and we are consumed with fear. We feel swallowed up in darkness and wonder what to do next. How will we ever get through the current crisis?

We need to remember Jesus’ soothing words, “Take heart, it is I, have no fear.” Peter spoke up first, as usual. It was dark, the wind was howling, and the sea spray was probably stinging his eyes, making him wonder if he was really seeing Jesus. Only Jesus’ voice was clear and Peter called out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Without any hesitation Jesus said, “Come!” The other disciples sat, watched and waited to see what would happen. I would guess that they had white knuckle vice-grips on the sides of the boat, anticipating what they might see next. Thank God for the Peters among us. When life grows stormy, when we cannot see, when all is tired, wet and fearful and no one knows what to do, God sends us a Peter. A Peter is someone who can think outside the box, who has not been told that “it” cannot be done. A Peter seeks adventure and comes to us from the unlikeliest of places. It can be a stranger who offers a kind word, not knowing what traumatic encounter you have recently experienced. Or maybe it is like the little boy sitting on his neighbor’s lap in the rocking chair on the porch next door, crying with him because he is lonely after losing his wife of 60+ years. That child, like compassion and faith, encourages us to ask God for help.

Peter takes that leap of faith as he swings his legs over the side of the boat and drops down on the sea, eyes affixed on Jesus. He does it! He walks on the water toward Jesus. Peter did the impossible–until he looked down at the waves slapping against him and heard the wind howl and he began to sink. He called out, “Lord, save me!” and reached out to Peter with a strong, steady hand. As long as Peter focused on Jesus and only glanced at the danger, he was lifted up over the water. When he focused on the water and only glanced at Jesus, he sank.

It is a matter of perspective and faith. Jesus said that a day would come when people’s hearts would be weighed down with fear of what would happen to the world. We read and hear and see the ugly snarl of humanity all around us. The world and our experiences can be sinking places. John Ortberg wrote, “If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat.” You have to leave your safety net/zone. There are times we have to abstain from television news, papers and magazines because they disarm us and fill us with despair. We can allow ourselves to sink in the world’s miseries or we can intentionally look to God. We can read examples of other human trials in Scripture, spend time in prayer and spend time with fellow believers to help us stay focused on what God intends for our lives. God who is able–sustains us all. For all who tackle a cause, work to labor with God, to do the impossible, unthinkable and all that– is doomed to failure unless God is in it. We need to remember that it is by God’s strength that we can do what we do. It is like the old story about three friends crossing the stream. The first one confidently stepped into the water and gingerly forded the stream. The second one stepped, wobbled and kept balance and made it to the other side. The third one stepped in, stumbled and promptly fell in with a loud splash. What happened? It looked so easy. Well, the other two replied, you were supposed to use the stepping stones. God is the stepping stone in our life stream. With God we look less to ourselves and look more to Jesus. We gaze less at the world and are more riveted to faith in God. When Jesus and Peter climbed back into the boat, the disciples whispered to Jesus, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

In the times we are treading in deep waters, we need to focus on the possibilities God intends for us. An old hymn chorus says, “On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand. Our hope is built on nothing less.”

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

A Balanced Diet – Matthew 14: 13-21

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What do the Diabetic Diet, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutri-System and TOPS all have in common? They are all diets designed to maintain a healthy, balanced diet for the physical body. Losing weight and keeping if off has become a national obsession for some folks. Once the weight has gradually fallen off, it is really helpful to maintain a regular exercise program and to build a support system of folks who have been on the same journey. Jesus and his disciples got in a lot of physical exercise as well, walking everywhere they went.

Weight management can be a journey filled with days of frustration. There are also days when weight loss survivors want to brave the intrusions of personal space to do something new or to be close to someone they admire–even if it means moving from the armchair in front of the living room television to a stadium seat in the nosebleed section of the ball park to experience the game from a new perspective. There is excitement in anticipating what might happen at the game.

Jesus caused crowds most of the time and people had difficulty even getting close enough to hear what he was saying. He once got into a boat and pushed it away from the shore so that more people could hear him; his voice resonating over the water…and freedom from the crowds pushing all around him. He broke away to spend time in prayer with his Father and to recharge his batteries.

Jesus’ presence was inviting. He issued personal invitations with words like: come and rest, come and follow, come and drink, come and dine, come away with me, and leave that crowd to be with me. Jesus’ understanding of people goes beyond the ordinary and usual. He has the ability to give personal attention to every face in the room or to every soul on the hillside and along the lakeshore.

Singing “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know” can make the darkest nights sleep-able and make days bearable. Being in a crowd anticipating Jesus is a good time to have a moment of realization, rather than imagining a “virtual reality” moment, so popular today.

In today’s reading from Matthew, Jesus has just learned that his cousin John, the Baptizer, has lost his head…literally. He is looking for a quiet, secluded place to ponder the loss of a family member, the same prophet whom God had called to prepare the way in Zion/Jerusalem for the One who was to come to usher in the Kingdom of God. Jesus was always surrounded, whether by his disciples or curious onlookers. They asked questions and shared observations. Who would sit at Jesus’ side in the Kingdom of God? When was Jesus going to overthrow the government? We have a reserved place in the crowd because we have some of the same questions and doubts. Included in Jesus’ peripheral vision, are those with no faith and those who are looking for proof of life in the faith of others.

Jesus sees people who are looking for their place in the crowd. Some come early and some arrive late. How can all fit into their respective places in the Kingdom of God? In the grand scope of life, from beginning to end, Jesus is in control and there is nothing in the crowd that is new or anything that will cause his authority to be in jeopardy.

Jesus does not overlook our needs from day to day or for the future. All are welcome in the Kingdom of God. Jesus looked out into the crowd and had compassion on all of them. They were so needy that it was impossible for Jesus not to notice. They flocked to see him. No coffee breaks, no croissants or watermelon slices. No cookies or bottled water. It was late in the afternoon and the hunger games had started. Jesus saw that there was a noticeable need. His response was tangible. He touched their lives in a way that allowed them to put their trust in him. He multiplied what few provisions that could be found and fed their bodies. His feeding of the 5000 plus was not about future spiritual blessings, but about current tangible needs. It was not about the hope of a brighter tomorrow. It was not about becoming stronger in faith. Jesus cares about what we are muddling through every moment of every day.

Jesus asked his disciples to distribute the loaves and fishes. He invited them not only to sit and eat but to serve all in need. People that day shared a “Jesus Meal–a Jesus Happy Meal.” It was a balanced meal of protein and carbs(carbohydrates), like any of the nutritionally balanced meals I have already mentioned. All present were in need of instant and sustainable energy, to be brought out of a sluggish state to a place of participation and renewal. A chance to get on their feet renewed and ready to get going and share the Word of God. Think of it this way, God’s Word is calorie free, re-energizes and motivates us all to get up and get moving. Jesus promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” That promise gets us going and gives us hope.

Jesus has already provided at least a few seeds for what he intends to multiply in our daily lives. No crowd is devoid of hope. There was no need for manna to rain down from the skies, or for one thousand quail to flutter through the air. Just five loaves and two small fish. Not much for a crowd of more than 5000 and barely enough for a small dinner party to eat.

But in addition to the bread and fish there was something else: willpower–an initial act of obedience and sacrifice. One small boy’s lunch and his willingness to share, kick-started a miracle. Jesus has a way of stating the obvious, so when it came to feeding the crowd, he asked them, “What do you have?”

Jesus did not search the crowd for Twinkies, apples, Jolly Ranchers, cookies or popcorn–any of the hidden snacks we may have brought along. Most of us would have answered, “Not much!” and let it go at that. Yet, when all was said and done, the disciples collected twelve doggie-baskets/bags, leftovers to take home. Jesus knew this would happen. After all, God had been providing for twelve tribes on their life journey through deserts and oases for years. He had called twelve disciples to be Jesus’ assistants. Jesus knew his crowd, based on their past. He was concerned about their present and about their future. There is more to life than counting calories. Years ago my children participated in a musical at church that the Youth Choir presented. A messenger from God (named “Grace”) passed out invisible vitamin G tablets to all who came saying that God’s grace is sufficient and vitally necessary to all to have a balanced diet. Jesus came to sustain us all and to give us hope, and to lead us into everlasting life. Jesus is the bread of life we all crave on any diet plan.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Great things come in small packages – Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

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When I was young, my parents instilled the idea that great gifts come in the smallest of packages and small acts of kindness and small suggestions can develop into awesome possibilities. My brother and I looked forward to searching our Christmas stockings for the smallest wrapped gift–it was always the most meaningful, selected especially for each of us to fit our personalities. One year my brother received a Hop-a-long-Cassidy watch (Oh, if he only still had it!) and I got a Cinderella watch. We were learning to tell time and were so excited to have our new timepieces. It was our beginning awareness of the importance of time in our lives.

As we encounter Jesus’ parables in Matthew’s gospel, we are awakened to the potential of the power of God’s kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim. The gospel’s promise had tremendous possibilities from very small beginnings. Matthew was a creative writer, who carefully arranged Jesus’ teachings by similar subjects and that concept rings loud and clear in Matthew 13. Jesus told of a mustard see which is very small and grows to be a great tree. Next, he told about what he had seen his mother do many times–she put a small lump of yeast into the bread dough, knowing that soon it would influence all of the flour. Jesus then speaks about a treasure hidden in a field and how a man spent a lot of money to get that treasure by buying the whole field.

One by one or taken as a whole, these vignettes teach a great lesson to us disciples who so often count the cost, the possibilities of failure, the meager size of the project compared with the problems to be addressed, and we never even get started in the first place. Jesus said, “Don’t underestimate how a little beginning can grow into spectacular results.”

If you have ever braved baking bread, you know that the dough has to rest after it is mixed together with the yeast to allow the yeast to grow and emit gas bubbles. The bubbles, working with the gluten in the flour, allow the bread to expand in a warm, moist environment. The recipe usually gives a suggested time period to allow the dough to rise. If left too long, the mass can grow out of the pan, all over the counter and–even drip to the floor producing a big, gooey mess. At the time the yeast was added to the dough it seemed to be an insignificant little bit of something–but oh, how it grew!

Jesus promised that same kind of result in his kingdom. “The Kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Matthew 13:13) or “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed: when it grows it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree…” (Matthew 12:32). Jesus is telling us that it is an important understanding for us who are working at being faithful disciples, that the coming of God’s Kingdom causes a transformation in our lives as dramatic as yeast in dough.

When millions of people are starving, we do not hesitate to give our money to the CROP WALK or to put our pennies in the little house in the narthex for Presbyterian Women to send in to help alleviate hunger around the world. When so many youth in our culture are neglected and age out of “the system,” we can offer weekend food bags, school supplies, toiletries and basic clothing necessities. When the community asks for volunteers or goods to go to New Life Center or Eve’s Place to aid victims of domestic abuse, we report for duty by bringing in clothing, household goods and toys to help improve the quality of life in the kingdom. God can do great things with what others consider inconsequential, not big enough or valuable enough to make a difference. Sometimes a little thing like a thank you note or a phone call of appreciation becomes a small act of kindness that can develop into more acts of kindness.

Christianity can and does bring about big changes in lives. There are transformations of cranky people into kind and patient ones and greedy folks into generous, sharing ones. Whole communities can be changed with Christian leaven, changed to love people of all races, cultures and abilities. The homeless and battered can be sheltered from the cold and the hungry can be fed. It is not because we began a little bit for the kingdom here with great big designs. It is just that we took what little we could do & trusted that these simple parables of Jesus were correct descriptions of how it is in the kingdom–little does grow into much and is sometimes almost unseen and unheralded.

God has worked it out to provide our forgiveness, salvation, a spiritual life here, and eternal life beyond the grave. It was an unpromising beginning in a cave in Bethlehem, a ridiculed new kind of ministry, a resented-by-the-religious establishment’s relationship with the church, and a disgraceful crucifixion as a common criminal. The world and our own lives have been changed because of those beginnings.

The man in the third parable who found a treasure and bought the field had his priorities right. He spent a lot but he obtained his treasure. This tells us that sacrifice is appropriate in certain cases of kingdom work. In a day of “You will get what’s coming to you,” and “Don’t let anyone take advantage of you,” we have a lesson in kingdom priorities which says that for some things, it is still worth paying the price.

Because of this parable, we must search our souls to discern what price we and our family ought to pay in order to have what our culture says we should have to be happy. Often we are much older before we realize that true joy does not come from possessing things, but in quality relationships with others. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we are called to find ways to plant seeds, even if they are very small. We also must mix in and be the leaven for the whole loaves. God has called us to be workers in the kingdom. Jesus also teaches that there are treasures on earth for which we ought to sacrifice. In the kingdom sacrifice starts small and grows, and we also benefit from sharing our money, our time and our abilities for others. Sharing our whole self is very much called for in God’s kingdom (we pray: thy kingdom come, thy will be done). If we have a vision for the Kingdom of God, we will be warmed and encouraged by these three kingdom parables of Jesus. The smallest understandings of the Kingdom of God can produce great progress as we work together to make the world closer to the Kingdom God desires. Great things do come in small packages, doses, steps, however you want to describe them.

Amen

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Walking in God’s Shoes – Romans 8:12-25

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Last summer I traveled to Toronto, Canada, where I visited the Shoe Museum. It was a most interesting place displaying shoes from antiquity like Greek, Roman and other civilizations, plus “shoes” from Indian tribes indigenous to Canada, right up to contemporary time. Some of the recent shoes were from famous people like Sir Elton John. His shoes were bright red boots with appliqued initials on the calf: E on one boot and J on the other with seven inch platform soles. Would that bring him closer to God or endear him to his audience?

There is a website called Bored Panda that lists weird and some awesome inventions like a Pizza scissors (combination of spatula and scissors that makes it simple to cut and scoop up a slice), a Weight watch belt (with marks on it to help you see as you are getting dressed whether you are gaining or losing weight–boo!), LED slippers (with bright headlights on the front to make it easy to navigate a dark house) and my favorite: No Place Like Home shoes embedded with a GPS. Put on the shoes, let them know where you want to go, and blinking red lights will direct you turn by turn as you take a walk. Don’t worry about the GPS in your phone, these shoes will do the walking! It’s an interesting idea if you are willing to get up and actually walk somewhere. A friend in the first church I served more than twenty years ago said that our modern generation has “gasoline butt” and do not walk anymore–not even to the park only three blocks away! We could call these “shoes made for walking” God Shoes. According to Paul, we make wrong turns repeatedly and are guided more by our own desires than by God’s will for our lives. Paul’s letter includes a discussion of the Spirit in relation to the flesh, moving on to the hope of fulfillment. He notes first that we are debtors, but not to the flesh, for to live according to the flesh (our worldly desires) leads to death by sin that has corrupted our bodies by living within us. If we live by the Spirit of God, then the deeds of the body are put to death and we will live forever with God. All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s children and as God’s children, we are heirs with Christ. The Spirit leads us to praise God our Father by our witnessing to the power of the Spirit; by the way we live our lives in service to God.

Paul does not consider the suffering of our present times to be worth comparing to the glory of God which will one day be revealed to us.

Biblical studies professor Richard Carlson, says that if we choose to live according to the flesh, we are: self-centered (our own desires at the heart of our decision making), self-serving (rather than neighbor-serving or God-serving), fractious (irritable and quarrelsome) and engaged in autonomous living (acting independently, without regard for the surrounding community). It means that we are more concerned about looking out for our personal interests and constantly asking the question, “What’s in it for me?” A pair of LED slippers will be no match for the darkness we will encounter if we choose to live by the flesh. Better for us to put on the “God Shoes.” They do not have to be bright red with our initials emblazoned on them. It is better to be filled with the Spirit; like wearing the fan-dangled GPS shoes that can show us the right way to go to keep from being lost. The leading of the Holy Spirit is God’s greatest invention, one that meets our needs at the most critical times, helping us through the twists and turns of life that lie ahead of us.

We realize that we begin to find our way when we accept that we have been adopted by God. We have a chance to step into God’s shoes. We can be like little kids who clomp through the house wearing Mom’s high heeled shoes or Dad’s hunting boots with dangling leather laces–untied, of course, and feel a connection to our Maker.

As adopted children, ones who are willing to call God our Father (or more intimately, Abba=Daddy), we have rights as “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” As heirs, we can expect to receive grace, love and the guidance of God, which are gifts given to us, not because we earn them, but because we inherit them. As members of God’s family, we are given the right and the privilege to step into God’s Shoes and to walk in his way.

As heirs of God, walking in the Spirit requires us to walk in the way of the cross. The path is other-centered (desires of others at the heart of our decision making), other-serving (rather than self-giving), reconciling (focused on healing broken relationships) and interdependent (acting in concert with people around us). This path is tough but it is grounded in hope. Paul says, “In hope…we wait…in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen. But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (v. 20-25). Hope is what keeps us walking forward; what motivates us to listen to our spiritual GPS when we are faced with fear and sufferings. Hope sets us free to throw away our old shoes of death and decay and to put on God’s shoes and follow the Spirit’s leading. We have this hope because we now know who our real Father is!”

When we follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and walk in the way of Jesus, we can be confident that we are playing a part in the plan that God has for the healing of the entire world. In time, says Paul, “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Until then, we keep walking. We have good days and bad, successes and failures. Some days our struggles are painful and we know that is our reality check. We are waiting for adoption, for the redemption of our bodies. So, tie on your God Shoes and allow yourself to be “led by the Spirit of God,” kind of like waiting as a pedestrian wearing a pair of GPS embedded shoes. Focus on being other-centered, other-serving, reconciling and interdependent, sowing unconditional love to those around you. Hope for what you do not see, and wait for it with patience. God will direct you every step of the way–sometimes through suffering and adversity–knowing that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Nothing in life or death or anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 38-39). Put on your God Shoes and let those shoes keep you walking.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

People Who Influence Our Lives – Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

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TIME magazine did a survey asking who was the most significant person ever.  The top results were not terribly surprising: 1. Jesus, 2. Napoleon, 3. Mohammed, 4. William Shakespeare and 5. Abraham Lincoln.  Presbyterians will note that John Calvin was listed as 99 out of 100!  All of these folks were real people.  Another list was compiled of the most influential people who never lived:  Sherlock Holmes, Wonder Woman, Ebenezer Scrooge, Betty Crocker, Rosie the Riveter, Mary Poppins, Indiana Jones and Romeo and Juliet.  These folks got a fictional life because someone created them.  Without fictitious people we could not speak of a man having an Oedipus Complex or a woman acting like Cinderella, or battle with Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster.  Our lives are richer because of the people who never lived.

The Bible speaks of a Prodigal Son, a fictional character created by Jesus to make a point.  The Sower is another fictional character created y Jesus.  Unlike a cultural character like the Marlboro Man, the Sower has spiritual depth.  No one comes close except perhaps the Good Samaritan.

Jesus has such a huge following on land beside the Sea of Galilee that he retreats to a boat and teaches from there as people stand on the shore.  Jesus teaches in parables, stories that do more than communicate information; they engage people, sometimes delighting them and at other times, forcing them to dig beneath the surface to understand what is being said.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says, “A sower went out to sow.”  In our minds we can picture the Sower in the field with a bag slung over his/her shoulder, scattering seed amongst the furrows.  While walking along some of the seeds fell on the path and the birds came and ate them.  The story never tells us about digging holes or making furrows or covering the seeds with soil.  The Sower just keeps tossing seeds–some on rocky ground and when they sprouted, they were scorched by the sun.  As the Sower continues his work, some seeds land in the thorns and they are choked when they begin to grow.  Some seeds fall on good, fertile soil and bring forth grain, a harvest beyond his wildest dreams:  30, 60, 100 fold.  At first, the farmer seemed a bit careless, tossing seed randomly and assuming that there would be a harvest in spite of the losses.  He believed growth would come.  Jesus tells the account in an effort to keep sowing the word of the Kingdom of God, even though the words land on religious people, some who think he is possessed, on disciples who struggle to understand his teaching, and on one occasion to a rich young man who is unwilling to part with his possessions in order to follow Jesus.  The Sower keeps sowing and Jesus keeps spreading the word.

The Parable of the Sower teaches us that Jesus throws good seed everywhere, knowing that most of it will be destroyed.  As followers of Jesus, we should do ministry and mission in the same way.  We need to welcome others as Jesus has welcomed us, and preach a message of unconditional love and unlimited grace.  Jesus calls us to be faithful to him and to the Kingdom of God, not to be successful in a worldly sense.  It is peculiar, but as Jesus explains this parable to the disciples, the focus shifts from the Sower to the Soil.  When the message emphasizes the Soil, it reminds us that we should all be good soil–people who hear the word of the Kingdom of God and understand it.  Jesus promises that the person who does so bears fruit and yields in multiples.

When you hear about the kingdom, do not be like the path which is susceptible to the evil one who comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart.  Do not be the rocky ground in which a plant has no deep roots and endures for only awhile.  Do not be thorny soil in which the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.  Do not be like Don Draper, a Mad Men protagonist, who never lived but vividly portrayed the dark side of worldly success.  The problem with the soil is that it merely sits and receives the seed.  It cannot choose to be good or bad.  If you saw a farmer yelling at his soil, ordering it to be good, you might wonder if he was what my husband used to say, “His elevator does not go to the top floor” or “He is one brick short of a full load.”

And then, we read that Jesus commands us to “listen!”  Listen to the story of the Sower and learn that Jesus is generous in sharing the word of the Kingdom with all the people of the world.  God’s Word is fruitful and a great harvest is guaranteed.  The Kingdom will come when God decides it will come.

The Sower reveals to us that Jesus is in charge, spreading the Word about the Kingdom of God.  Our job is to trust what he is doing, and to share this message with joy and generosity.  If we do, we will feel the influence of a person who never lived and we will be following a Savior who really lived and died, and rose to be with us forever.

I like to recall stories told by well known radio broadcaster, Paul Harvey.  In 1978, at a Future Farmers of America convention, he gave a speech that was an extension of the Genesis narrative referring to God’s action on the eight day of creation.  Harvey described the characteristics of a farmer in each phrase, ending with the statement, “So God Made a Farmer.”

The speech was used by Dodge Ram in a commercial during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVII (February 3, 2013).  The ad featured photos of a portion of Harvey’s speech.  In collaboration with the Future Farmers of America, Dodge agreed to donate $100,000 for every one million U-Tube video hits the ad received–up to one million dollars!  The goal was reached in less than five days.

Harvey’s speech in reference to God’s creation work on the eighth day went:

  • God needed a caretaker for the land he created.  So God Made a Farmer.
  • God needed somebody with arms strong enough to wrestle a calf and gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild.  So God Made a Farmer.
  • God needed someone  to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to await lunch until his wife was done feeding visiting ladies, and then tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon, and mean it.
  • So God Made a Farmer.

Paul Harvey is a real man with faith in a genuine Savior, Jesus, who listened and understood the parable and related it in a way we can use to visualize the Kingdom of God.  And NOW we know the rest of the story.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Jesus Lightens Our Load – Romans 7:15; Matthew 11:16, 25-30

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Every year at this time we remember our country’s birthday and the amazing freedoms we have that came with a price, the lives of many who fought for independence. In my family we added my brothers birthday, July 3rd to the celebration and reminded him that he got fireworks for his birthday! Our forefathers compiled the Declaration of Independence, granting us particular privileges and freedoms in our nation.

In this morning’s New Testament reading from Romans, Paul. speaks of a law that is good, granting us parameters to abide by and we have a choice to make: we can choose to follow the law or we can opt not to follow the law. If we disregard the civil laws, we pay the price for our errant ways. God’s law has an amazing, generous proviso that would not stand up in the courts of our land. If we sin against God and God’s directives, then Jesus steps in to rescue us from death to sin. Jesus paid the price for us who place our trust in him. On Judgment Day, when we stand before the Lord God Almighty, we are trusting that the judgment will be stamped “PAID” in full by the blood of Jesus. Our court system, as wonderfully designed as it was, will not allow a proxy to serve out a sentence in place of the individual convicted for wrongdoing.

We live in the best of times that can also be called the worst of times, to borrow a line from “A Tale of Two Cities.” Jesus lived in a time period in which folks were just as confused, wayward and hardened of heart with inappropriate behavior–not quite so different from our era. The people of Israel were like children playing, but could not get the other children to celebrate, even when they played music. Some of the kids played going to a funeral” as others were celebrating nearby. How is it that people can be so fickle? We grouse about how burned out we are while enjoying the highest standard of living in the world, along with all the conveniences that minimize work. Who here is unhappy about conveniences like gas/electric stoves versus wood stoves/campfires, automatic dishwashers and vacuum sweepers (I used to marvel at the carpet beater Grandma kept in the laundry room to spruce up the area rugs over the clothesline–no wall-to-wall carpet either!)? Think about the squawking we do as we sit at our desks to answer e-mail or complain that it never lets us off the job. How often can you turn the radio on in your car and hear RAP music expounding/lamenting about the meaninglessness of life and the degradation of relationships between people?

The people in Jesus’ day had their own perverse ways of living and thinking, and attitudes which permeated their religious life. Today we tend to criticize some people for being too “extreme” in their religion, and then we talk about those who appear too life affirming to be “religious.” We are certainly inconsistent nit-pickers! Jesus continued his remarks by giving thanks that his teachings are hidden from the wise and intelligent. Martin Luther, preaching on this text, once said that people in the church do things the way they want and feel that they just improve on everything God does. Jesus, using his authority, attempted to alert listeners to the sins of their times and we need to be aware of the sin in our lives. John Calvin put it this way, “Jesus tells us that the reasons why most men despise his grace, is, that they are not sensible of their poverty…Let our miseries drive us to seek Christ, let us learn, that there is no venom more deadly than the slothfulness produced in us either by earthly happiness, or by a false and deceitful opinion of our own righteousness and virtues.” In modern day “speak,” Calvin means that only when we know how sinful and twisted we are, will we appreciate grace, God’s forgiving love and our need for it.

In spite of economic hard times and poverty around us, America is still the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. Wealth cannot buy the most important things in life–inner peace and love in marriage and family life. Have you noticed people who seem intoxicated with life, rushing from day to day, and wildly plunging into supposed happiness because they do not want to admit that they are unhappy and burdened? People spend a lot of time seeking happiness and wanting to be entertained. Some can become a burden to themselves and then realize that they need a person who can be fully trusted, a person who understands, hears, and bears all things. Webster calls a “friend” a supporter or sympathizer. A friend helps us to make the burdens we encounter a little lighter.

Jesus is a real friend, the one who makes God known to us, and in a way that demands so little of us, just as true friends make few demands of their friends. A good friend once gave me a plaque that read, ” A friend is someone who likes you just the way you are.” Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” In my life experiences, I have learned that friendship is an unearned, joyful gift, a relationship in which people are free to share life in memorable ways. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that Jesus is one who thinks and lives for others. In Jesus we have a full time intimate friend who helps make us sane. With all our squawking despite the machines and tools we have to make our lives easier, our moaning when we should be rejoicing sometimes over things that warrant mourning, we need a sane friend to do some thinking for us. I think we need a friend who will exercise authority, take charge and lighten our burdens.

Besides telling us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, Jesus is reminding us that he is “gentle and humble in heart,” that in him we can find rest. Jesus wants to give us rest from our burdens. Friendship with Christ is not a burden. He makes all our burdens feel so light. It is like the hymn we sang earlier:

“What a friend we have in Jesus., All our sins and griefs to bear!…Do your friends despise, forsake you? In his arms he’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.”

How does Jesus make our burdens light? Jesus takes away our sin and gives us companionship as we deal with personal problems and the social issues of the day. Jesus makes life more bearable and a little more firm by giving us the Holy Spirit. Having the Holy Spirit in the trials, challenges and duties in life helps lift us up and enables us to face them. Friendship with Christ and the Holy Spirit makes life easier and more fun.

Hanging out with Jesus and the Holy Spirit makes life fun and shatters a lot of stereotypes about Christian living, but then Jesus was a fun guy. At least, that is what the gossips said in verse 19. Critics say he was a glutton and a drunk who hung with a rough crowd. He is offering to hang with folks like you and me, so maybe we should party with him–and get the word out about our friend.

“We should never be discouraged. Take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness” and loves us just the way we are.

We have the freedom to choose our friends, who are gifts from God. Happy Birthday America! Thank you for freedom of religion.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Youth Program

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Last week’s message was done by the youth group.  Focus was on songs and the Montlure experience.  They also thanked the congregation for sending them to camp.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Sermon by Lisa Hein – Elder

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As I was getting ready for this sermon- My idea was to show God’s Faithfulness using the Israelites’ Years in the Desert, after God took them from the ruthless slave drivers in Egypt.

Scriptures say- God watched over their journey through the vast desert and HE was with them and they lacked nothing- And that is note-no praise- worthy since there were 600,000 men, not including women and children that came out of Egypt and traveled in the Desert 40 years .

Let’s see- there was Water flowing out from a Rock on more than one occasion- there was Bread from Heaven- called Manna- and for those of us who have never had Manna show up on the ground outside in the morning-.. the bible says, it was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.. Sweet ! And then for Meat- lovers- in the evening- Quail would come in and Cover the Camp, so much so- I am assuming you could step on one and make it a meal- no work involved there, except to cook it as you pleased. When I found this verse it amazed me… –“Neither the clothes on their back or the sandals on their feet wore out in 40 years”. As parents with growing children, that would be a huge savings/blessing, and that comment itself boggles my mind.

I’d say God showed himself Faithful and took good care of the Israelites.

As I felt lead to completely read Exodus which is where the story of the Israelites in Egypt begins and goes through the writing of the 10 commandments to writings of the Law.

It is interesting to see that the book of Exodus starts with the end of Joseph’s story-, the son of Jacob, the one with the coat of many colors- who was sold by his envious brothers and ended up in Egypt, where he became 2nd in power with the King of Egypt. God had put Joseph in that position, so that he would be able to provide for all of his family, the sons of Israel who numbered 70 in all when a 7 year famine hit the world and God was faithful to provide for all their needs and there they stayed.… THEN many years later, the Israelites were “fruitful and multiplied” greatly, becoming exceedingly numerous so that the land was filled with them.. I guess they outnumbered the Egyptians so much, that it freaked them out, thinking if Israel got it in their heads, they could fight against them and leave the country- which would devastate it. So they dealt shrewdly with them, put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, dealing harshly with them, and made their lives bitter with hard labor ruthlessly… wow- that got pretty ugly and then to top it off, the king decided they needed some serious birth control, so he made a law that said to kill all of the Israelite boy babies- Enter Moses- Mom- who believed in God and put Moses afloat down the River Nile, where the Pharaoh’s Daughter came upon him and adopted him for her own. He must have grown up knowing he was an Israelite, because when he was older, he went for a walk, down to where his people were working- He saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite, and got so upset that he killed the Egyptian. He thought no one had seen him, but when Pharaoh found out- he tried to kill Moses and Moses had to run for his life, so there you have it- Moses’s first experience with a King of Egypt, trying to help the Israelites- and it didn’t turn out so well…

Fast forward some years- Moses is married with children… He leading his sheep- he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There he saw a bush that was on fire- but it didn’t burn up.. amazed, he went over to the bush and God spoke to him from within that bush…As the story goes- God Calls to Moses- and tells him that He is GOD and what he wants him to do-

The Lord Said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land into a good and spacious land, flowing with milk and honey… ??This is note-worthy- this land flowing with milk and honey was a land promised by God to Moses’ ancestors- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Again further discussions of God’s Faithfulness

Pretty cool of God- makes the first move- came down to earth, spoke to Moses- telling him he heard Israel’s cries and wants to deliver them out of Egypt and into a great place… pretty well laid out plan, with a happy ending!

Moses conversation with God starts out ok, with- Here I am! But when God says-“So I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites out of Egypt.” Moses showed some reluctance by saying … Who am I, that I should do this thing? ..Wonder if they don’t believe me?,…Wonder if they don’t know who YOU are and what YOUR name is?… You think Moses is having flashbacks to his failed attempt to help Israel and deal with a King of Egypt.. think he is scared? You know when you are scared to do something, just having someone there with you- helps give you courage… and that is what God told him- that God, himself will be with Moses and go with him. Then He encourages Moses more by sharing about Himself as the dependable and faithful God, that Moses can trust-

God even gave him a cool staff-snake “trick” so Moses could do miraculous signs, proving to the people and Pharaoh what he was saying was True and from GOD. Do you think Moses believed God?  When he says – O Lord, I have never been eloquent in speech, I am slow of speech and tongue, Oh please send someone else.,, No, I think he is still scared and not trusting God… but God knows Moses and even though he is angry with him, God still looks out for Moses, and tells him, that his brother, Aaron, who he knows can speak well, is on his way to see him. God said He will help both of them speak and will teach them what to do and say. …So if you consider that God is employing these two to do this “Exodus job”-then you can see, that God is not one of those “employers” that tell you what to do, but give you not help to do it. God had a plan, was working it out and said he would be right there with them, helping and training- What a Patient Faithful God!!!

The chapter continues and is well worth reading, with Israel watching, still being slaves, while Moses and Aaron go to the Pharaoh to say everything the Lord tells them to say- mainly that God Says- TO Let My People Go! But God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and though He did multiply miraculous signs and wonder in Egypt, Pharaoh would not listen or believe that he was God the Lord.

These are the things that the Israelites saw-

The water of the River Nile- it turned to blood- so that all the fish in the river died –and then Moses outstretched his staff and all the ponds, streams, canals, buckets and jars were all turned to blood, all unsuitable to drink. Think of it- Blood everywhere- with no water to drink.

Then here were Frogs came up from the waters and were all over the place, then died and stunk everything up again

Then there were the Gnats, pesky little things all over the people and animals.

Then the swarms of flies- but with that- the Lord said he would show Pharaoh that he makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel- where the flies will be everywhere, EXCEPT in the land of Goshen where his people live, the Israelites. And it that is the way it happened until the last Plague.

Then the plague on Livestock- all of the Egyptian’s livestock died, but none of the Israelites… The plague of the Boils on Man and Beast, The Plague of Hail- God even warned Egypt ahead of time, but only some believed and put their people/possessions inside. .. With Moses stretched out staff toward the sky, the Lord sent thunder, hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields—both men and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree. The Worse Storm Ever Seen by Egyptians and Israelites Alike. The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived.

The plague of locust – ate everything that was left after the hail- Then the plague of darkness- where the Egyptians couldn’t see anyone else or leave his place for three days- Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived… I am not sure that that would have been a plague for me- as I don’t think I would have wanted to see the devastation that was outside my house after all that had happened.. 

Then the last- the Plague on the Firstborn- where all the firstborn sons in Egypt will die from the Pharaoh who sits on the throne to the slave girl- there will be loud wailing –AGAIN THE worse there has ever been or ever will be again.

Right before it hits- God gets the Israelites ready to leave…He tells Moses- I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh/Egypt. After that he will let you go from here and he will drive you out completely. I will make the Egyptians favorable disposed toward you so that when you leave Egypt, you will not go empty handed, and every man and woman are to ask the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and clothing, so as to plunder the Egyptians –now God has made the Egyptians WANT to give them gold and silver and clothes – to get them out of their country- which is the opposite of how this chapter started!! ! This shows the Power of God in matters of Man.

The Plague of the Firstborn hit Egypt- All the people tell the Israelites- GET OUT NOW- So all the Israelites left and God lead them in an incredible way… ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud nor the pillar of fire left its place in front of the people. …Is it bad to say- God provided the first flashlight of sorts?

So there they are having been away from Egypt only a few days- when they see Pharaoh coming with all his chariots and army with him… and of course, they are terrified and cry out to the Lord… They say to Moses- Wa..wa..wa…. It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!! Really?? What a thing to say- after all they saw happen to Egypt to get them out! But Moses answered- do not be afraid, Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today… The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still… I would like to repeat this again for our sakes…

Do Not Be Afraid… Stand Firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you… The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still….. In Psalms it says- Be still and know that I am God… Stand Firm in the Promises of God- and in your believing that he will deliver you and fight for you! He will not leave you nor forsake you! Whatever it is = you are going through… and I know there is a lot of things we all are going through…don’t look at what you see- look at what God says.

So now the story of the parting of the Red Sea- where Moses raised his staff and stretched out his hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites could walk through the sea on DRY Ground…that’s right Dry ground

What I found Awesome is that the pillar of cloud that was traveling in front of them, now moved and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.  And yes those arrogant Egyptians did pursue the Israelites into the Sea, thinking they could catch them. When it was time- the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion, He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving.. the Egyptians said- let’s get away from them, the Lord is fighting for them against us- But too late- the Lord told Moses to stretch his hand over the sea so that the waters flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen. Not one of them survived. … and then it says here- finally- when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant…

Really- just now they are putting their trust in the Lord and believing what Moses is saying??

Well I guess that is right- because the next chapter says they got all giddy and started singing … I will Sing to the Lord for his is highly exalted… majestic in power… he hurled horse and its rider into the sea….woo hoo!!

And then this- which boggles my mind- 3 Days later- just 3 days… they are in the desert of Shur and they have not found water- along the way- and when they do it was bitter… so the people GRUMBLED- What are we to drink? Does God want us to Die? And just about a month later- the whole community Grumbled against Moses and Aaron- If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt. There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death… WOW… Couldn’t they have just asked Moses to Ask God for it? God’s answer to them – Manna and Quail…

Makes me think of Matthew 7- where God says- do not worry about what you will eat or what you will drink, what you will wear- as God know you have need of them… I guess it seems we are always worrying those things.. those are ME things- we can see and feel.

This next part I see as so dramatic- Please put your” sitting in a movie theatre hat” on…. This is only the Third Month after the Israelites left Egypt- when they arrived at Mount Sinai- the place where God gives Moses the 10 commandments. Just prior to that- there is some communication between God asking and Moses and the Israelites- saying that they would put their trust in God… God wants Moses to Consecrate them, “clean them up for on the Third Day- they will meet God-… I have to read this straight from the scriptures- On the morning of the Third day- there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses Spoke and the voice of God answered him.. The 10 commandments are right here- and then the bible says … When the people saw the thunder and the lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, Speak to us yourself and we will listen.. but do not have God speak to us or we will die.

Moses said to the people do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning. Then Moses stays on top of the mountain for the rest of the Lord’s law-…

Meanwhile back at the bottom of the mountain- when the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain they gathered around Aaron and said – Come make us gods who will go before us- they had him make a Golden Calf , for crying out loud- how is that a God- that can do anything- and an Animal??? And then they say– … As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt we don’t know what has happened to him…. WHAT??? I read it again- and just didn’t get it- after all they have been through, & seen? I could not understand

You can be sure- God was not Happy- he Called them Stiff-Necked- I looked that up- it said Stubborn, Haughty and I looked up Haughty- the definition says- arrogantly superior and disrespectful.. and it showed a lot of Selfish attributes related to this..

Then I found in Ps 106- “ But they did not believe his Promises.”… and then it hit me…that was the answer… those that don’t believe, don’t care about God, who He is, how He loves them, there is no respect for Him and what he has done- created us- provided for us, every breath we take- is from the Lord… It seems the way the scriptures are laid out- that after they heard the 10 commandments – they didn’t want to believe or do what was right- they thought it wasn’t

self-fulfilling?…they thought- I don’t want to or can’t begin to live up to those laws- so I will figure out another way- MY Way- with Golden Calfs to worship… I don’t get why they still have to worship something- Could that be- that God has made a place in our hearts to worship him, so without Him, we look for something else- maybe they are really worshipping their own self –centered- ness- worshipping a God who really doesn’t have any power- makes them feel safe in what a crummy life they are willing to live.???

 

Through all of this- I kept seeing in the scriptures, God reaching out to the Israelites- who he calls his own people, who he has chosen, he does all of these miraculous acts to show them that He is GOD, the- I am who I am, who desires the full trust of his people– His people that he created and knows them personally. He takes our imperfections, our refusing to accept Him, to Obey Him, our sin, and keeps reaching for us- Asking us to Believe Him, Trust Him, He set the Law- the Rules of the Commandments so that we would know the right way to live-“be righteous- but that Law is what condemns us .. Just knowing what all the law is- is WORK, so not breaking that law is even more Work- Our Work, our deeds- Us, alone, trying to prove we are good enough…to be called righteous- isn’t something we really have the capacity to do- Just Look at how many times the Israelites rejected God and Sinned!

Romans says- “ Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

“It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.”

Do you See that FAITH- He Believed- the things that God promised to him- even though he could not See it then- it was a promise for His future and about the faithfulness of God- And he still Believed it! It can be done!

God has provided a Way to be right with Him, through His Son Jesus Christ, who died that we might have life.

“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

Will you not Believe with Me today- The Faithfulness of God- The Love of God for Us- If you already believe in Jesus Christ- then continue to Believe God in all of His Promises and CLAIM them for yourselves- don’t look at what you ‘SEE” now, but Look to God- what His Word says, what He Promises and the Future that He holds for all of us.

If you haven’t Believed God and Faith in his Son Jesus Christ yet, then take that step today- it is easy- just say- God- I have sinned and I believe that Jesus Christ takes away the sin of the world- Show me Your Way- and He will bring Life to your Heart and give you an Eternal Life with Him in Heaven- and that is wonderful Happy Ending to Believe in! Forever!

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Always With Us – Matthew 28:16-20

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Have you ever been hard at work at something, concentrating, deep in thought, focused on a particular project and suddenly you are aware that someone, somewhere is watching you?  It is as though some sort of sixth sense kicks in and you can feel the presence of someone or something  close by.

One morning I was dozing peacefully in those moments before the alarm goes off…and suddenly, I had that feeling…like someone was there.  Close by.  I tried to convince myself that it was the haziness of a leftover dream but I could feel a hot breath on my face.  When I opened my eyes I was greeted by the furry face of our household pet, tail wagging and eyes sparkling with the pleading look of “Let’s get up, I really want to go out and then to eat breakfast!”  After jerking awake and peeling myself from the ceiling, it came to me.  “Just a few more minutes,” I said. Then I had that feeling again.  I had heard the dog leave the room and go down the hall but even with my eyes closed, it was clear that someone, somehow, was there.  Maybe this happens to you?  Today’s gospel reading tells us that Jesus will always be with us.  May father before he died said that he would always be with me.  Sometimes, in a very real way I can sense his presence, like when I am in the garage searching in my tool box for the right tool to get started on a repair project.  I always called Dad from my garage to ask his advice as to how to tackle one of those home repair challenges.  In fact, a few weeks after I had come home from his funeral, I told Nancy that I needed to call Grandpa to ask him to walk me through a home repair–he felt so near to me.  Nancy reminded me, “Good luck with that one, Mom.  You can call, but he probably won’t answer from heaven.”  I wonder if this sense of presence is the way that Jesus intended to be here?

Think about it.  Jesus gave the “Great Commission” to us all.  He said that “all authority” had been given to him.  He instructed his followers to go and create (make) disciples of all people, baptizing them in the name of God (Father), the Word(Son) and the Holy Spirit.  Then he proceeded to instruct his followers, that includes us today, to teach all new disciples to obey the Commandments that Jesus gave us.  I wonder if Jesus knew how difficult a task he was laying on us, because almost like an afterthought he said, “Don’t worry because I will be with you always…even to the end of the age.”

Remember learning to ride a two wheeled bike and the security of the training wheels?  They were great.  Mine were borrowed from a neighbor with the promise that they would be returned in two weeks when my friend was going to get a new bike for her birthday.  I could ride my bike and not have to worry for two weeks. The day came when I came out to ride my bike and Dad had removed the training wheels.  Oh no!  Where was my security now?  Dad offered to hold the bike by the seat and to run along beside me while I rode.  “Good,” I thought.  Of course, by the time I got to the end of the driveway and looked back, he was at the other end of the driveway grinning.  I had been on two wheels without him holding on and I did not realize it.  I am with you always, huh?  I don’t think so.  Dad wasn’t holding the bike, but he was there.  Not only was he there to pick me up if I fell he was really and truly there.  I could “feel” it.  Even though he was a couple of hundred feet away, I could sense his presence, watching me with a sense of satisfaction.  I knew he was there. 

Jesus calls his followers to go and create disciples.  We are not to make, coerce, judge, manipulate or threaten people to follow Jesus.  As partners with God, we are to create disciples in much the same way that God fashioned the world.  God created, shaped and formed the world out of love.  We are to create new disciples with love; to grow them, to nourish and lift them up gently, fully, wholly.  The days of standing in the street and screaming about the end being near or whacking someone over the head (they have been hit by the Word of God) with a Bible as though you have some superior start in life over him/her.  I actually observed these practices on the streets of downtown Detroit as I waited for the city bus to get me on the last leg of my morning bus journey to school.  Nonetheless, the call is real and true.  We are to go out and create disciples.

How do you feel about your responsibility as a Christian to go out and preach the gospel to those who have not heard it?  How do you feel about asking/inviting people to come to church on Sunday, to invite them into your life, your faith community, into the transforming and healing love of God in Jesus Christ? It seems to me that many people are uncomfortable about it.  Sometimes I feel like I could be on display or appear as a “goody two shoes” if I want to divert a person from a potentially harmful activity.  I do not want to push my point of view too far and have people think I am aggressive or offensive.  Why is it that we can go through a whole week without telling someone about the love we have experienced through God’s work in our church?  Why do we go through a whole week without sharing the acceptance we have gained in the love of Jesus?

First, people do not like to be “E”vangelized.  They stoned Stephan, beat Paul and even threw him into prison multiple times.  This offering of God’s love can be risky business.  People are so used to the pain and craziness of the world that they think it is “normal.”  Anyone who suggests it can be different is considered a little bit crazy.  That is why Jesus said, “I’ll be with you, even to the end of the age.”  Does that mean now?  Absolutely!  Wherever we are, Jesus is present.  You might become aware of it in the way I sensed the dog staring at me in my sleep.  You may experience it like an unseen hand guiding you down the driveway.  You may encounter the presence of the living Christ in a totally different and unique way, belonging to you alone, or you may have yet to experience that sense of presence.

I am here to say that as we examine the challenge to share the love we have in God, we need to know that love accompanies us wherever we go.  It is real and we can share it with others humbly and gently by our actions and in our words.  We are called to move forward, offering Christ to others.  I have met people who declare they are atheists and do not need God.  Most of them have not had experiences in life where they have been down and out in crisis.  What they do not believe in is the Church as an institution.  They reject the polity and hierarchical structure.  It is not the church we are called to believe in.  We are called to believe–to trust–in God’s love as it has been brought to us through Jesus Christ–and we learn about this love through the body of Christ–the Church and by worshiping and studying Scripture together.  We need to claim anew the Great Commission, to reject manipulation and coercion, the evangelism of guilt and shame and to cast upon the waters of life new bread, new hope, new offers of gentleness and love–given to us by Jesus.  We need to share the Christ we know in a loving faith community, to embrace ministries of compassion and justice with the Christ who holds us close and walks every step of the way–even to the cross to set us free from our sin.  I challenge you, I double dare you to:  “Go and create disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father/Creator, the Son/Word, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them about the love of God in Jesus Christ.  “Don’t worry, Jesus will be with you every step of the way, forever, even to the end of the age.

 

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon