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Building a Legacy – 5/17/2015

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 Message Delivered on May 17, 2015

Acts 1:1-11; John 17:6-19 “Building a Legacy”

Ascension is one of the Christian celebrations that has been somewhat lost in observance. It is still on the calendar but we tend to focus on Pentecost, which follows. Pentecost rushes in with fire and color and gets our attention. Easter has its powerful message for Christians and Christmas is well accepted, albeit overrun with consumerism. Ascension sits on a little shelf in an alcove of our faith.

The Book of Acts is written by a Syrian physician, Luke, who could have believed that heaven was just above the dome of the sky that is clearly visible. The idea of Jesus rising into the sky and entering heaven seemed logical. Luke had no idea that far above the clouds there was an enormity of space containing billions of galaxies, each of them containing millions of stars like our sun. There was no reason to question that the Messiah would return the same way he left. The Jewish hope was that the Messiah would rip open the heavens themselves and descend to earth with chariots and an almighty army of angelic warriors to put aside all disorder and sin, and establish a single kingdom that would rule all the earth. It was a glorious vision, and it kept the Jews going when they were hemmed in by nations that wanted to destroy them.

This hope is evident in Luke’s report that the disciples “gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ ” Despite the crucifixion, which the Romans practiced to instill fear into the people, Jesus’ disciples believed that Jesus would be like the Messiah of legend. They were still thinking of earthly glory, where the nations of the earth, rather than ruining Israel, would be ruled over by Jesus Christ (the Messiah). They had been hoping for this from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. They are still hoping even though Jesus told them to stay together and wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. If Jesus were about to establish an earthly kingdom, what role would the baptism of the Holy Spirit play in that scenario? Jesus had been frustrated from time to time when the disciples did not understand the parables he told, or the healings he had performed. He had done everything to train and educate them for the work ahead to be done. He even died for them. They had not understood the resurrection. Even after his resurrection he had continued to teach and the disciples were still talking about restoring the kingdom to Israel. He tells them, “It is not for you to know.” and then he commissions them: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” That commission applies to all of us, as well. We are to report to others all that Jesus has done for us, for others, and for the world. Jesus intended that we bring hope and joy to the world around us.

If the disciples listened closely, they would realize that they had an enormous task ahead of them. They were to preach in Jerusalem (a dangerous proposition), in all of Judea and Samaria (the land of pagans who worshiped in a temple other than the real temple in Jerusalem where God lives). The disciples had traversed on foot from Galilee to Jerusalem, to Caesaria, Sidon and Tyre–but–to go to the ends of the earth would mean to travel by sea which they had never done (Simon Peter, Andrew,

James and John were fishermen on Lake Galilee surrounded by land), preferring to buy goods from others who did the shipping.

The disciples waited…and waited for the inflowing of the Holy Spirit, not knowing that event would transform them, change them from frightened people, hiding in a locked house, into charismatic preachers. Jesus sent them forth to establish God’s Realm, but it was the power of the Holy Spirit that would enable them to begin the transformation of the world. How would they do the work for Jesus in his worldly absence?

In John’s gospel, it is noted that Jesus prayed “Those whom you gave me from the world…the words that you gave to me I have given to them and they have received them.” Jesus’ teaching is the essence of his legacy–one that will remain with the disciples and guide them as they continue his work in the world. This “changing of the guard” from Jesus to his disciples can be compared to late night television hosts Jay Leno (Johnny Carson before him) and soon, David Letterman, who established formats for late night viewing programs. What makes for a lasting legacy? There is no longer-lasting legacy than that of Jesus–one that has lasted over 2000 years, yet is not relegated to the history books. Instead, it is a living, breathing legacy that each Christian contributes to every day.

Words have power and can affect the legacy we leave, especially the negative effect that ill-considered words wield through the power of the internet and social media. When all we have to do is hit the “send” button, it is very easy to let our emotions get the best of us and to say things to the world that once we might have said only to those closest to us. Those words can now impact millions.

Everyone wants to leave a legacy but how is one built? We want to leave behind something that will make an impression, make a difference and create a footprint that will stand the test of time. As talk show hosts retire or move on, President Obama is approaching his final year in office. Young people are graduating from college and at other educational levels, closing a chapter of their lives to being another. Some will be retiring from careers in which they have spent decades. What will graduates and retirees leave for those who come after them? Will goals be higher because of what they did? Will the job be easier or harder because of them? What will be their legacy?

In John 17, Jesus prays for his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is preparing them for his departure and speaks of the things he wishes to leave for them: the Words God gave to him, which he gave to the disciples; God’s truth in Scripture; Jesus asks for the disciples to be protected and kept in unity and reconciliation. Jesus leaves the disciples the same joy that comes from being in relationship to the Father. Jesus gives the disciples a sense of mission, “I have sent them into the world.” All of the worlds, all of the unity, all of the joy is of no account if it is hoarded, or kept as a trophy or a treasure. Like the bread and wine of Holy Communion, they must be broken, poured out and shared with the world before they can know their true value as refreshment, renewal and empowerment for faith.

Have you ever written a will? Maybe for high school or college, in which you explained what you would be leaving to your alma mater and the underclassmen thereof. I have. They were copied, collated and distributed the last week of classes. Some of the wills were funny and some made little sense, but it was an opportunity for myself and others to consider what would be left behind for those who came after us. My classmates had given me so much. What would I leave in return? Were there any new standards because of something I had done or one of my classmates had accomplished?”

As the Easter season comes to an end, let us ask ourselves, “What have we done or created in the name of Jesus Christ that will serve the next generation? What will live on after we are gone that will bear witness to God’s grace and love for those who need to hear it most? Have we set precedents or learned how to turn a negative situation into a positive outcome for the building up of the Kingdom of God? Our words are the testimony we give about what we truly believe and no testimony is more powerful than that of the Christian life. 1 John 5:9-13 says, “Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony [of God] in their hearts.” Words can have the power to enlighten as well as to demean (Ephesians 1:15-23 suggests). Given the power that our words can have, it is essential for us to consider how we use them and in whose service we employ them.

Christ gives peace and his words are fully truth and truthful. The words we have from Christ and how we use them are part of the immediate legacy we leave on the hearts of those who receive them. In building a legacy to leave for others, kind and loving words, or sometimes harder truths spoken in love, should be our guides. It takes commitment, patience and love to build a legacy for those who will follow us. Once again, we are waiting for the Holy Spirit to move us to action. 

 Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

We Are Chose – 5/10/2015

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 Message Delivered on May 10, 2015

John 15:9-17 “We Are Chosen”

The Scripture readings for today are reminders that our unity and relating to each other in love flow from God’s love and grace. John’s gospel was probably not composed until the last two decades of the first century and is very different in style from the three other gospels. The book of John has been identified with John, the son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved. His authorship has been questioned by many scholars, but Papias, one of the earliest Church fathers, claimed that John was an eye-witness. Papias’ testimony and authentication have lent support that John wanted to encourage Jewish Christians in conflict with the synagogue to believe that Jesus was in fact, the Messiah, the Son of God.

Chapter 15 is part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, unique to John’s gospel. It includes the teaching of the New Commandment of love and Jesus’ declaration of friendship with the faithful. Jesus says that as the Father has loved Him, so He loves the faithful and exhorts them to continue in the love, and to keep His commandments by abiding in love, just as Jesus in God’s love abides in God’s commands. The New Commandment is to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Jesus did not come to earth to abolish the Ten Commandments, but to encourage everyone to love God and each other. If this were to happen, people would be following the Ten Commandments by loving and respecting God (first four Commandments are to obey God) and by loving and respecting each other (last six Commandments). Jesus’ summary of the Ten Commandments was tao love each other by laying down our lives for each other, just as Jesus was willing to do for us. If we listen to Jesus and follow his words we are acting as friends in Jesus’ footsteps. No matter what we do to displease Jesus, we need to remember that Jesu loves us anyway. I liken it to the bad hair day. We look in the mirror and go “Ugh!” while Jesus looks at us and says, “Ah,” I love you just the way you are. Jesus chooses us to go out and bear fruit that will last: win souls for Jesus and share God’s love, understanding and grace with them.

Jesus had just used the metaphor of the vine and branches, that He is the vine and we are the branches. Jesus has chosen us just as he chose the original twelve to share in ministry. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (v.11).

The disciples knew that in grace Jesus came to them and offered unconditional love. I relate it to a mother’s love. All the wailing and whining of a child melt away as the child smiles at Mom and say, “You are the best mommy ever!” I have been told that labor pains disappear, are forgotten–until the next child is born.

One of the awesome signs of the risen, living Jesus is that he comes to us again and again, even if we do not want to be chose, even if we hide behind skirts of cowardice and say, “Who me? Why me? Pick on someone else.” Jesus pursues us relentlessly. We need to recall that even after dying on the cross, after saying, “It is finished,” Jesus cracked open the tomb door and sprang out of death’s grip that first Easter. (“Up From the Grave He Arose!”) He is alive, calling, gathering and sanctifying us as his disciples.

This passage tells us we are chosen for joy, chosen for love, chosen to be Jesus’ friends. Remember choosing up sides to play kickball or baseball? You would put your hands on the bat until the person holding the bat last was the one who got to make the first choice. It was great to be chosen to be on the team. It is an honor to be chosen and to feel joyful.

The earliest Christians were joyous people. They caught the infection of happiness from their Master; with his unsullied conscience, his uninterrupted communion with God, his perfect trust in God and his unselfish spending of himself for others. Christ offers to share his joy with anyone who will accept it from him. Barnabas (one of Paul’s travelling companions) said: “Christians are the children of joy.” Paul wrote to his congregation in Philippi: “I am glad and rejoice with all of you and in the same way you must also be glad and rejoice with me (Philippians 2:17b, 18).” Think of the song, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!”

We are chosen for joy and love, and are sent out into the world to love one another. It does not always look that way–not even from a mother’s perspective. Often we worry about our investments, the priorities we set, time we allot to people we are supposed to love and the way we use our resources for ourselves, rather than others. God has chosen us to live the kind of life that shows what is meant by loving other people. Jesus reminds us that he has the right to demand that of us–even to give our lives for each other. Jesus gave his life for his friends and asks that we do no less. We understand the theology but have trouble living it. It is like a parent who tells their child, “I love you when you are good,” and the child says, “Daddy, I love you all the time.” The child has the right idea of how God loves.

Jesus chooses to love all the time, that we too, be his friends and he promises, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (v.15). In days gone by a servant of God was to be one of God’s elite–but Jesus is offering far more than servanthood. He is offering friendship. We are ‘selected’ to be his friends. God is not a slave master who will burn us if we do not satisfy him. We do not need to work like crazy to please him so that he will treat us well. No, he comes to us as a loving friend whom we serve because it is a normal response to having loving friends. Aristotle said the marks of a true friend are: he guards you when you are off your guard and does not forsake you in trouble; he even lays down his life for your sake; he restrains you from doing wrong; he enjoins you to do right; he reveals to you the way to heaven. There is a kinship of spirit. There is a propensity to love rather than measure being loved.

In true friendship there is trust, a confidence that is whole-hearted. God is no longer to be feared. Jesus chose us to be his friends; chose us to love; chose us to share joy. On this Mother’s Day, it seems fitting to tell you that my Mom told me before she died that the greatest friend we have in life–after God, is our mother. When a Mom leaves to be with God, there is a hole in our heart that has to be filled with loving memories.

Sybil Dray was a loving wife and mom, and we will remember her every time we walk past the friendship garden in the church’s front yard. We were created by God–in love–and will be lovingly remembered by those whose lives we share. To God be the glory. We are thankful that we are chosen. 

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

New Formula for Life – 4/26/2015

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 Message Delivered on April 26, 2015

1 John 3:16-24 “New Formula for Life”

This is traditionally “Good Shepherd” Sunday, but I have probably preached

the texts from Psalm 23 and John 10 at least twenty times in the past twenty-three years, so I decided to do something different and preach from 1 John 3:16-24. Keeping this in mind, I need to begin with the Old Testament Scripture in Leviticus 19:18, which says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” As far as formulas go, it is terrific. It has worked well for thousands of years in a variety of forms in most of the world’s religions. Jews, of course, believe the statement in Leviticus. Hindus affirm that “One should not behave toward others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself.” Buddhists say that you should “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” and Muslims believe that “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” (These sound so much like the “Golden Rule”, Matthew 7:12, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”) Jesus endorsed the teaching in Leviticus when he made it part of his great commandment, “Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39)

Since the end of the second century 1 John has been recognized as having been written by the author of the fourth gospel, or by another member of his circle. The letter is a discourse on love claiming that the Son of God laid down his life for us, and so we ought to lay down our lives for each other (v.16). The focus on Christ is in line with the letter’s efforts to address doubts about whether Jesus was truly a human being and whether his death on the cross was a sacrifice for sin. John wants us to know that God’s love gives us boldness and confidence even when we feel guilty and condemned. The spontaneity of good works is suggested by the fact that Christ dwells in the faithful, brought to us by the Holy Spirit and that this leads to loving each other. These works depend on Christ, who is All-in-All.

John’s formula has a new spin on it: “This is [God’s] commandment, that we should believe in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another” (v.23). Believe in Jesus. Love one another. NOT the same old formula.

In recent years, companies have learned the hard way that it is dangerous to change the ingredients of a successful product. Thirty years ago, Coca-Cola changed its formula and introduced a product called “New Coke.” Remember that? The response was overwhelmingly negative. Pepsi stepped in with a “Pepsi Challenge” and folks were invited to taste Pepsi and Coke and see if they could tell the difference. Boy, did I luck out. My father was a Pepsi drinker and my mother was a Coke lover, so I grew up drinking both. I could tell the difference and when invited to take the challenge, I could tell between ten samples which was Coke and which was

Pepsi. I walked away with a 6-pack of Coke and a 6-pack of Pepsi! The response to the new formula for Coke was overwhelmingly negative. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it”? Within a mere three months the original formula was back on the market. Coke learned by complaints, complaints, complaints.

So, what was John up to in today’s lesson? He wanted to put a human face on the commandment to love one another–the face of Jesus Christ. “We know love by this,” he says to his Christian brothers and sisters, “That he laid down his life for us” (v.16). John is wise enough to know and understand that love can become too sweet, with people enjoying the pleasant taste of tender emotions and charitable thoughts. So, he changes the formula to include the bitter truth–the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. A change of ingredients can actually change behavior. John says, “We ought to lay down our lives for one another” following Jesus’ example. Under this new formula, sacrificial giving becomes a part of the Christian life, one that cannot be denied. John asks his followers, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help?” (v.17). That’s a troubling question. Where do you see God’s love in such a person? You do not because it is just not there. Love is seen in action, not in words. “Christ Life” is found in people who love one another and build strong connections to their neighbors. These loving bonds do not just make people feel good–they can actually curb the risk of having a heart attack. A research team at the University of Michigan has found that people who rate their neighborhood highly have a significantly reduced heart attack risk. The difference in risk between people with good neighbors and people with bad neighbors is roughly the difference between a non-smoker and a smoker. Healthy relationships and healthy hearts–that is a good reason to “love one another, just as he commanded us” (v.23). All of this comes from “Christ Life”, a new kind of life for us. The formula is believing in Jesus and loving one another. John links belief in Jesus with love for one another, knowing that the clearest example of love is the sacrificial life and death of Christ. The result of this new formula is a close connection to God, one in which “all who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them” (v.24).

Coke has decided once again to alter its formula, calling it “Coca-Cola Life.” It has been tested in Argentina and in the United Kingdom. Is it healthier than regular Coke, since its formula contains sugar and stevia (from a plant in the chrysanthemum family)? Regular Coke has 140 calories per can and Coke Life will have a mere 89. You can think of it this way:

  • Coke has just started offering Life–or will soon in the United States
  • Jesus Christ has been offering Life for quite some time. The gospel of John begins with the Word of God taking the human form of Jesus, and we are promised that “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:3-4).

Belief. Life. Light. Put them altogether and a new formula begins to emerge. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Love is now in the mix–a life that extends beyond the grave–eternal life.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me, will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Life in his name.

Eternal life.

The Light of life.

Abundant life.

The way, the truth and the life.

Life, Life, Life…

“Christ Life is not the same old formula. It is a new one based on believing in Jesus and loving one another. Believing in Jesus draws us closer to God and to one another and allows us to abide in God–to accept, observe and follow a particular path. So…give it a try. You have nothing to lose, and a new life to gain! 

 Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Powering Up – 4/12/2015

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 Message Delivered on April 12, 2015

John 20:19-31 “Powering Up”

If I were to ask you what you think about when you hear the expression “power up,” what comes to your mind? Maybe it is plugging your phone into the charger to refresh the battery, or turning on your computer (to “boot up” or “power up”), or perhaps you are turning the key in your car’s engine. All of these are possible sources of getting re-energized or ready to perform various tasks.

Think about the tornado that ripped across mid-America and wiped out a small town west of Chicago. That storm did more than “power up.” It cut a huge swath across Illinois, wreaking havoc in its path. Storms that knock out electrical systems help us to focus on systems that remind us how dependent we are upon power. We are grateful when wind filled storms pass over and do not affect the flow of power to our homes. If we are to define power, we might think of possession of control, authority, or influence over others. Some people have natural gifts for applying power. Some are born to power and others seek power, while still others abuse power. The whole matter of authority, jurisdiction, control, command, or dominion is an extremely intriguing one. Often we are locked in international and national debates as to how we should or should not use power. Should the Mideast have nuclear power and the ability to bomb neighbors near or far? Today’s gospel announces how Jesus conferred powers upon his followers when he appeared to them as the Risen Christ. Let us call it “Easter Power.”

John’s account of Jesus’ resurrection appearance takes place on Easter in an Upper Room where the disciples had gathered. Jesus’ appearance is substantiated by Luke. The disciples were in shock, drenched in fear, worrying what might happen to them when it was discovered that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb. The door is locked in defense of any who might come looking for them. It is Jesus who comes looking for them.

Can you imagine what it was like when Jesus came and stood among them unannounced? He does not enter the way a normal person would through the door. He speaks to them to give them evidence that he is their Lord and shows them the badges of his crucifixion: five scars, nail prints in his hands and feet and the wound where he was speared in the side to confirm his death. The scars were proof that he was the living Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, standing amongst them. He was dead but now he is ALIVE!

Jesus’ greeting to the disciples was, “Peace be unto you,” shalom. It is a word used to suggest the fullness of well-being and harmony untouched by ill fortune. It is a lot like the German word, “Gemutlichkeit,” to convey well-being. The word as a blessing is a prayer for the best that God can give to enable a person to complete one’s life with happiness and a natural death. Jesus’ ministry was clear: he had come to introduce the rule of God and to order peace for the world. If only peace reigned in the world then and now!

Jesus came to tell his disciples about the unbroken relationship with the Father as the chief sign of peace. It was his gift to the disciples to contradict any other form of security offered by the world. His gift was dependent upon his complete victory over sin and death. The community of Jesus’ disciples came to look upon the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as God’s Gospel of Peace for the whole world.

The welcome greeting was accompanied by Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit upon them, even as God had breathed life into Adam, the man formed of the dust of the earth. On the first Easter evening, Jesus made new creatures of his disciples. Paul wrote later in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

The One risen from the grave brings new life, life that has conquered death and reconciled us to God. New life conferred by the power and force of the Holy Spirit is synonymous with eternal life. The Holy Spirit enables those who share in Jesus’ victory to opt for decisions that make for peace and are conducive to actions of freedom and love. It is a new way of living.

Dying to destroy death was a significant victory. Too often victories are only momentary, but not so with Jesus’ victory over the grave. Jesus’ victory can now be put to universal practice. God had reconciled the world to himself. There is a new basis for God and people to live together. The disciples had authority from Jesus to forgive sins–divine authority. They had authority to reconcile people to each other. They could withhold forgiveness hoping that some folks need to seek out the goodness and mercy of God. Forgiveness of God can be withheld from those who neither love nor trust the God who created them.

Jesus’ power is the power needed in the world for healing. The brokenness of the world can be seen in the inability to live in harmony in marriage, family, work, community, political, national and international relationship. We all suffer from the problem at one level or another. What is not so obvious is that people are inept at overcoming the destructiveness of bad human relationships. Remember “Humpty Dumpty, who had a great fall? All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put Humpty together again.” At our house we said, “Poor Humpty.” God can and does reconcile people through the power of forgiveness he shares with us.

Spouses can forgive each other to make their marriage new every day. Parents and children can forgive the daily failures they have in their efforts to live together in tranquility. Progress toward better relationships can be made when there are persons willing to be advocates and reconcilers for individual rights and agendas. One of the prevalent problems today is that our nations was born out of Christian traditions and values while other nations do not have the same convictions. Jesus not only gifted the disciples with Holy Spirit, but he also empowered them to believe–to have faith. The disciples’ fear turns to joy and they witness to the Christ. When Thomas comes to the second gathering, the disciples tell him, “We have seen the Lord!”

Thomas can only believe if he sees Jesus’ scars, the signs of death, not life. Jesus offers to let Thomas touch his scars but Thomas confesses his faith. Jesus tells Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have come to believe.” Faith is a miracle given by the Holy Spirit, who can change the hearts of people and help them to believe in Jesus, who has achieved our salvation for us.

John wants us to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and through him, we too will rise again. In the meantime, we are sent into the world as practitioners of God’s reconciliation. I have been to enough doctors lately who are practicing medicine, that I want them to get it right. I want you to get it right, as well. Wherever we are, there is a need for forgiveness of sins. Each Christian has the power to forgive. Jesus trusts us to carry on his work. Power Up. Do you agree to accept this mission? Sometimes it seems like the old television show, “Mission Impossible.” 

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Lincoln and the Lord – 4/5/15

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Message Delivered April, 5 2015


Mark 16:1-8

In our secular society heroes are openly worshiped.  It is no surprise that on Good Friday, April 15th, 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln was attending a performance of “Our American Cousin” at the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C. when actor and southern conspirator, John Wilkes Booth, shot Mr. Lincoln in the back of the head.  Mr. Lincoln died the next day–only four days after the Civil War had finally ended.  Americans will once again remember one of its greatest and beloved leaders (beside the IRS) on April 15th.


Lincoln has actually been compared to Moses leading his people out of slavery to the Promised Land and even to Jesus as the savior of his people.  A Baptist minister, Rev. C.B. Crane of Boston, said at Lincoln’s death, “Jesus Christ died for the world.  Abraham Lincoln died for his country.”  Not an actively practicing Christian, Lincoln focused on justice for all, forgiveness and mercy for his enemies, and the liberation of the oppressed–all Christ like qualities but this is where the parallels end.


Lincoln’s body would lie in state at the White House and then in the Capitol Rotunda before the long train ride back to his burial in Springfield, Illinois.  The train stopped over four hundred times for Americans to pay their respects along the way.

Mark tells us that Jesus had been publicly and brutally crucified on Friday afternoon.  A wealthy, secret disciple of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea, asked Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, for Jesus’ body, which was very unusual because most  crucifixion criminals were left on display or discarded into a ditch after death.

Joseph took Jesus’ body and laid it in a newly hewn tomb and rolled a large stone over the opening to seal it.  Lincoln’s body had been carefully embalmed, a new process for American mid-nineteenth century burials.  In the first century it was up to family and friends to do the burial preparations, a two-stage process.  First, the body was washed, wrapped in linen cloths, and covered with spices that would lessen the smell and hasten the decay process.  A year later, the family would gather the bones and put them in a stone box called an ossuary and then, place the ossuary in a niche at the back of the tomb.

Early Sunday morning, the women came to the tomb to do their funeral preparation, found that the stone had already been rolled away, and the tomb was empty.  Had someone stolen Jesus’ body?  What had happened to him?  Grave robbing was so common in the first century that Emperor Tiberias had issued an edict condemning the practice!  The women were shocked when they saw a “young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side of the tomb.”  He proclaimed, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is NOT here.  Look, there is the place they laid him.”  Jesus definitely had been moved but he had been the one to move himself.

Today respectful mourners can visit Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois.  There are monuments to him on Mt. Rushmore, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and the massive edifice in Washington, D.C.  He is even pictured on coins and paper money!  In Washington, Lincoln sits on a throne with an inscription over him, “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.”

  • Lincoln may have saved his country and people from slavery, but the risen Jesus actually saved the world.
  • The slavery Jesus abolished was the slavery that holds humans in bondage to sin and death.
  • Jesus’ emancipation from the tomb means that we all will be emancipated–set free from death and sin.
  • Jesus’ throne is a heavenly one from which he will reign over heaven and earth, Jesus’ kingdom forever. 
  • Jesus has no temple because he is the temple (Revelation 21:22).
  • Jesus belongs to the ages and is the One who will be with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

What would the United States be like today if Lincoln had finished his term in the White House and his life span on earth?  Easter tells us that true divinity can only be found in the One who can save us, who is still alive and will make us alive as well.  We can celebrate great men like Lincoln but today we WORSHIP the One who is the risen Christ, the Lord and Savior of us all, forever.  Hallelujah, he is risen, indeed, and lives to reign over his kingdom of heaven and earth, forever!  


Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Beside Jesus at Bethany – 3/19/15

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Message Delivered on Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mark 14: 1-15


This week is Holy Week and begins with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, teaching in the Temple and with people everywhere he went.  Thursday is the remembrance of the Jewish Passover, which Jesus celebrated with his disciples in an upper room.  This gathering is the foundation for our Christian celebration of Holy Communion as we remember Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and his glorious resurrection on Easter.

The lectionary for this Sunday recalls the triumphal entry of Jesus as recorded in Mark 11.  The reading from Mark 14 speaks about Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus at the home of Simon the Leper, who would have been considered untouchable, yet Jesus went to his house to eat.  Luke’s account in 7:36-50 tells us that Simon was a Pharisee and that Jesus was eating in his house, when Mary anoints Jesus and is forgiven for her sins.  How ironic that forgiveness is meted out in the home of a Pharisee, one of the leaders Jesus chastises for spouting off the law but not living the law.  In John’s gospel, Jesus visits the home of Lazarus, whom he has raised from the dead.  Jesus is anointed by Mary.  It has always been a troubling question to me: which Mary is anointing Jesus?  Is the identity of the “Mary” using a costly ointment to anoint Jesus important or is the act the important point?

In Jewish tradition anointing was reserved for the dedication of a king in preparation for his reign over his kingdom. Was Mary anointing the “King” of heaven and earth?  The Mary who  humbled herself and anointed Jesus in a selfless act was chastised for her extravagant gift–her gift of love for the Savior.  How did she know that Jesus would die to save us all from sin?  The guests were concerned about wastefulness but Mary understood self-sacrifice.  Jesus had been teaching everyone he came into contact with since his entry into the city.  He had been speaking about forgiveness and the gift of grace.  The Pharisees and other leaders were unwilling to hear or believe.  They had their own profitable system of attaining forgiveness by bringing offerings to the temple to lift up to God for forgiveness.  It was a profitable system based on works righteousness.  Simply put, work to get offerings to present in the temple to literally buy righteousness.

We think that we have to work to effectively to have approval in our world.  If we think we need feathers in our cap, we will find it tough to live without them.  Our culture lies ethically in the dregs of what used to be the Protestant work ethic.  Remember the “blue laws?”  An arrogant woman wired home from her new job, “Made supervisor, feather in my cap.”  A few weeks later another wire arrived, “Made management, feather in my cap.”  A month later they got another wire, “Fired.  Send money for ticket to fly home.”  Her parents wired back, “No ticket necessary, use feathers.”

In the account of Jesus’ anointing at Bethany, one Christian behaved in a way that many Christians have forgotten how to behave.  One Christian is extravagant and accused of being wasteful.  She gives from her heart.  The disciples want to know why the woman with the alabaster jar of expensive ointment (nard) did not sell it and give the money to the poor.  Jesus’ explanation is simple:  “I am going to die soon.  That is why.”  Surely the disciples did not realize how numbered Jesus’ days were, but the woman with the nard knew.  She knew that she would not have many more chances to anoint her Savior.  She was very different from the young woman of the feathers.  She lived for something more than her own interests, she lived for Jesus.

Some of us have become victims of our own feathers and our own pragmatism.  We are committed to efficiency, productivity and saving the poor–but we rarely remember why we are so driven in these directions.  As right as it is to work hard for the poor and to impact the world in a positive way, it is more urgent to remember Jesus–especially on this day of the Palms.  We only had thirty-three years with him.

We think we have to be effective to have approval in our world.  If we think we need feathers in our cap, we will find it tough to live without them.  Our culture lies ethically in the dregs of the Protestant work ethic promoted by the evolution of the blue laws. Middle class men and women live by the dim lights of the Protestant work ethic instead of the light of Christian grace.  Poorer people are beaten over the heads with these dim lights daily.  Why are they poor?  Because they won’t work.  Because they are lazy.  Even though many of the poor are mothers of young children, they are labeled as poor because they do not or will not work.

Well, folks, work is not the basis for our salvation!  Grace is!  In the deep down places of life, grace is real.

The work ethic took something good and turned it into something like control.  The one anointing Jesus at Bethany did not try to control life, she tried to spend her life for Jesus.  The work ethic has become perverted into a ploy to control God, hoping that God will do our bidding.  The work ethic began as a belief that if we work, things will go well for us.  If not, it is our fault for not working.  The God who is implied by the Protestant work ethic needs sacrifices laid at the altar daily:  paystubs, raises, promotions, upward mobility, a well-feathered cap.


The God we actually worship in Jesus is a God who requires none of these sacrifices.  Our God accepts gifts in the form of expensive oil (love gifts with no strings attached), praise and grace-filled living.  Originally Protestants meant to experience the grace of God deeply enough so that they could make and do, buy and sell, trade and travel.  They thought that material prosperity was a sign of their election by God to renew and remake their world.  Was capitalist activity an offering to God?  Since the Reformation, capitalist activity has become a sacrificial, controlling offering.  God has been pushed out and off the stage.  We are now human doings, rather than human beings.  We make and do and do not feel elected so much as oppressed.  We allow ourselves to be busied to death.  We accumulate to our own death, afraid that if we spend we might come up empty.  In fact, if we were to spend what we have, we would come up full!  All kinds of people lay their lifestyles and excuses at God’s feet, having very little memory of what it is like to play or do what you want to do, rather than what you have to do.  The woman at Bethany took time out for Jesus.  She did what she wanted to do.  Some people are too far removed from the holy–time off for rest on the Sabbath.  It is what some might call grace and what others might call ointment.  Can’t you hear the disciples complaining?  The woman did what they could not do.  She spent.  She gave.


 What might God be saying about our human economy?  Neither buying or selling is directly related to our reward, not on earth or in heaven.  There is no salvation with having what we can earn.  We can play our way to salvation.  Play is what you want to do while work is anything you have to do.  Play does not mean that we quit our jobs tomorrow and move onto our couches.  Play is an attitude, a spirituality, a home.  It has to do with what stands inside us when we tell the boss we have had enough.  Play is freedom:  the ability to give away what we have, even in the face of what to some is the ultimate scarcity, death.  Play understands what Jesus understood:  time and life go on after death.  There is an eternity to life.  We can enjoy each other now, even if there is not much time left.  Many fear that play is not plausible.  What is not plausible in the terms of the gospel is the world of works righteousness.  Grace is more plausible than any work–any way you look at it.  


 Reformers proclaimed Solo Gratia, Solo Fide.  We are saved by grace alone.  Some of us take off early some days while others are sitting at their desks.  We do not live a switched life, turn me on, turn me off.  We play at work.  We play with God.  Sometimes we play with our feathers.  If we run into Jesus at Bethany, hopefully we will give him all that we have and are. 


Amen.


 


Categories: Weekly Sermon

A New Ethic – 3/22/15

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Jeremiah 31:31-34              


In our Adam Hamilton Bible study, “24 Hours That Changed the World,” we talked about the ethics behind the torture and humiliation of Jesus.  What motivates people to agree to inflict intense pain upon another human being?  The Romans utilized a light form of flogging on lesser criminals; but when they wished to instill terror, they  used methods so brutal that all but the most hardened spectators would turn away.  Those beatings had a great deterrent effect.  Flogging was designed to inflict incredible pain and damage but to leave the victim with just enough strength to carry his cross to the crucifixion site.  Jesus did not beg for mercy which probably confused the Roman soldiers.  They amused themselves by staging a mock coronation of the King of the Jews, placing a purple robe on him and pressing a crown of thorns down on his head that dug into his flesh.  Jesus had challenged the authority of the religious leaders and pointed out their hypocrisy.  Were the soldiers doing their job?  What makes human beings capable of inhumanity toward one another?  Are there times when we as ordinary people lose our humanity, in our fear find ourselves supporting policies and practices that in other, better times we would have resisted?  Ordinary people can be persuaded to do extraordinary and awful things.  Given the right combination of ideology, authority, and gradual desensitization, all of us can become monsters, capable of destroying others with weapons ranging from words to gas chambers.  It is a reality we must face and guard against, looking instead to God and trying to understand who he has called us to be.

How do we set our “ethics” setting?  New advances in technology are evolving daily.  The Apple Watch–just out, an all terrain stroller that can handle grass, gravel, rocks, trails and other “mommy terrain.”  There are now robotic cars that make decisions about what crashes to avoid.  The car is programmed to avoid collisions and to save lives, but what if a person is standing on the sidewalk?  Can the car veer off the road?  The car can decide to swerve to kill one person and avoid hitting a car full of people on the road.  Can the car owner adjust the ethics settings?

If we look at Jeremiah we can see that God intervenes to adjust our ethics setting.  God does this when a new law is written on our hearts.  Jeremiah gets word from God that there will be a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  “New” sounds good because it usually carries the promise of improvement.  God led the Israelites out of Egypt and they broke the old promise-based relationship, a relationship that God initiated because he loved them as if he were their husband.  God heard their complaints when they were oppressed by Egypt and delivered them.  Then God gave Moses the two tablets of the covenant containing God’s law.  “I will be your God and you will be my law abiding people.”

There was a problem–the people could not or would not obey.  Their disobedience began as soon as Moses descended the mountain with the tablets in his hands and it continued for centuries.  The old covenant was designed to keep people happy and healthy, just as robot cars are engineered hoping to keep people safe.  The old covenant guaranteed rest from work and time for family harmony honoring parents and resisting the temptation of adultery.  The problem was that the old covenant was not working, so God made a new covenant.  God put the law into their hearts through the prophet, Jeremiah.  The ethics settings were no longer recorded on stone tablets.  The ethics settings were placed deep within each one of us, written on our hearts.


For years people have talked and argued about “situation ethics,” and that right or wrong depends on the situation.  Actions are considered to be good if they have a good result.  Even killing and lying are acceptable if they lead to a sufficiently beneficial result.  Such ethics are not what the new covenant is all about.  When God readjusts our ethics settings, God writes the law on our hearts.  Our decisions are driven by knowing God and God’s way–a way we see most clearly in Jesus.  Now, when we meet people who are hungry on the Sabbath, or any other day, we feed them, just as Jesus did (Matthew 12:1-8).  When we run into foreigners who are strange to us, we sit down and talk with them, just as Jesus did (John 4:1-15).  We discover that our true brother, sister and mother is the person who “does the will of God,” as Jesus did (Mark 3:31-35).  Jesus readjusted keeping the Sabbath holy and honoring parents by reminding us that no one should starve on the holy day and family goes beyond the people in our biological families.

We are not robot cars controlled by God with orders to swerve to avoid collisions.  We have choices to make as we seek to follow God and Jesus faithfully.  These choices might lead us to new understandings of what it means to be loving and faithful people.  When we agree to the new covenant, we do not lose our moral compass.  We discover that our moral compass points us consistently to Jesus as we ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”


We all have an opportunity to get to know God personally by knowing his son, Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we see the human face of God, and we learn about God’s love, grace, and truth.  Through Jesus, we learn how much God wants to be in relationship with us, and to eliminate any barriers that might separate us from him.  

God even uses Jesus to eliminate the burden of our sins and to reconcile us to himself.  “I will forgive their iniquity,” promises God through Jesus, “and remember their sin no more” (verse 34).  This promise is made true for us by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, which pays the debt we owe and brings us back into right relationship with God.

“New” is clearly an improvement when we are talking about God’s new covenant with us, one that resets our ethics setting and points us clearly and consistently toward Jesus.  When we walk Jesus’ path, we do not abolish the law or the prophets, but we find a way to bring them to completion.  When it comes to ethics, the Jesus setting is always the right setting.  


Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Mercy and Graced to Life – 3/15/15

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Message Delivered on March 15, 2015


Ephesians 2:1-10


Grace, peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I use these words because Paul often greeted the church in this was as a declaration of faith.  Some people believe that they have to be baptized to be saved by Jesus, but Martin Luther emphasized that Scripture says we are saved by our faith and that by the grace and mercy of God, we receive new life and can experience peace–at least the peace that comes from knowing that God claims us as heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven.  We baptize as a profession of our faith and desire to be a part of a faith community that believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of life.  Because of Jesus, we celebrate the gracious gift of God’s mercy and power to forgive us for our sins, if we repent them and ask for God to embrace us with love and forgiveness ane the hope of new life with God forever.

I am sure you have all heard the expression, “Being nickled and dimed to death.”  We can take that metaphor and apply it to Jesus’ saving act on the cross and say that we are being mercy and graced to life.  The nickel and dime problem is big and getting bigger by the minute.  Hidden fees seem to be lurking everywhere in our culture–especially when we travel.  If you own a computer, you have seen all kinds of ads for “Cheap Hotels” and bargain rates for air fares on assorted airlines.  The problem is when you print your boarding pass to fly at a hotel, you might be charged a fee. When you get to the airport, you might be charged an extra rate for your suitcase, as well.  If you do not adhere to weight limits, that too can be an extra charge.  You might get charged for extra bags, extra leg room and sometimes, even for carry-ons if they are deemed too heavy or too large.  They have to fit in the sample bin at the doorway to the entrance of the plane.  Maybe you decide to travel by ground to avoid air fees and want to rent a van to take extra people and gear and snacks to save on restaurant charges–but some companies charge extra for a GPS, electronic toll devices and other amenities, if desired…all for a fee, of course!

Some of you might shop online and think you are getting the best price for an item until your bill arrives and you paid twice as much for the overnight shipping fee when the ad said “free shipping” (You forgot to specify priority mail, not express!).  Do not forget the handling or packing fees–surprise!  Hidden fees have been around for so long that we tend to think that if something appears too good to be true, it probably is.  When a price is too low, we start searching everywhere for the hidden fees.  We begin to read the fine print because we do not like being nickel and dimed to death.  We have learned to negotiate to reduce the fees or to make them go away.

When we read  the words in today’s Ephesians text, our scam radar comes out in full force.  It seems too good to be true–our sins are forgiven.  We are renewed and WOW!  We, who were once dead in sin, receive a new life.  Hee-haw!  This sounds like too much mercy.  This sounds like too much grace.  Could it just be that God is mercy and gracing us to life?  And what’s the frosting on the salvation cake?  All of this comes to us for free.  No hoops to jump through, no hidden costs.  Maybe we should search for the fine print.

Remember Ron Popeil and his television commercials?  Ronco, his company sold products like the Chop-O-Matic, the Inside-the Shell-Egg Scrambler and the Pocket Fisherman.  Ronco became a multimillion dollar money making enterprise not only on the strength of Popeil’s inventions, but also because he was an amazing salesman pioneering the infomercial to sell his products to mass audiences.  Popeil popularized such advertising standards as, “How much would you pay?”  “Wait, there is more.”  “If you order now, you will receive two items and free shipping– if you call right now.”  Today the phone sales representative asks you for your credit card number and the secret code on the back of the card to access your credit.


Ephesians sounds like a sales pitch. You were dead through your sins.  You have been disobedient to God’s ways.  You followed your own desires.  Where does that lead you?  No Where!  You can almost picture in your mind an exasperated person in a television commercial with disheveled hair and an annoyed expression on her face.  She knows it will be a long, untimely, frustrating day if she does not have the special product or ingredient needed for success.

Paul points out the ways the church of Ephesus has tried to find the better way on their own.  They have lived according to the passions of their own flesh and have found them empty.  We have chased after the perfect job, money and power, only to find that when we acquired them, that they were not what we expected.  The self-satisfaction we were seeking just did not “measure up.”  We search for the best vacation deal, the best car sale, computers and other electronic devices, but the joy of our sense passes swiftly by.  The vacation is over sooner that we like, the new car smell quickly fades and the techno toys are rapidly replaced by new, more fan-dangled models.

Paul offers a solution:  “There is a new life which satisfies deeply: Once we were dead, but we can be made truly alive; we have been struggling and there is one who will save us, we have been poor but there are better riches available to us.”  What would you pay to break the cycle of disappointment, to be raised up with Jesus, to be made alive with him and to be seated with him in glory?  The Bible says you pay nothing.  The price has already been paid.  The work has been done.  The words mercy and grace prick up our ears and turn on our scam radar signals.  We are  cynical.  We have been taught there is no such thing as a free lunch.  We have learned that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  We have been victims of corporate greed, commissioned salespeople and fine print.  We do not want to get taken.  Do you ever wonder, what is God really after from us?  What will all this really cost us?  Paul writes, “God is doing all of this out of the great love with which he loved us.”  It is a gift-free-no strings attached.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life”  (John 3:16).  God’s love is for all of us.  God does not ask us to buy a new and improved product or to buy into a program.  God is asking us to accept the love we have already been given.  It is available.  We simply need to live into it.  We cannot buy it because it is a free gift given to us through the grace of God and the mercy of Jesus Christ.  God made us alive.  We have been saved.  God has raised us up with him.  That is the compelling good news of Lent!


Paul summarizes by saying, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.  God is calling us to a new way of living and all we have to do is accept it.  In Christ we are being mercy and graced to life by our loving God.  May we accept the great gift of God’s love by living into the life of faith which is already ours.  


Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

God, a Good Ally – Exodus 20: 1-17

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Message Delivered on March 8, 2015


A group of American tourists once listened to a story told by their Jewish guide, Moshe.  He claimed that he could explain why Moses came down the mountain with two tablets of stone containing the commandments of God.  First Moses met some Kenites and asked, “Do you want God’s commandments?”  “What do they say?” asked the Kenites.  “Thou shalt not kill,” replied Moses.  “Thanks, we will pass,” responded the Kenites.  Next, Moses encountered the tribe of Hittites.  “Would you like the commandments? asked Moses.  “What do they say?” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” answered the prophet.  “No thank you.  “We will just move on,” retorted the Hittites.  Finally, Moses came upon the Israelites.  “Here are God’s commandments,” he said.  “Would you like to have them?”  “How much are they?” they asked.  “Nothing.  They are free,” answered Moses.  “Fine, we will take two,” they replied.


 


In reality, the Kenites were a clan of the Midianites, who are thought to have been part of Moses’ exiles and later confessed Yahweh as their God.  Sinai was a holy mountain for the Midianites before being “discovered” by the Hebrews.  Moses met God in a wondrous way atop the mountain.  God chose to ally himself with the Hebrews and made an offer.  Spokesperson, Moses, extended God’s special favor and the “gift” of the rules of life uniquely to the band of slaves who had made a run for it out of captivity in Egypt.  The Hebrews had already experienced God’s favor or they never would have gained their freedom.


 


God deepened his relationship with Israel by proposing, “You shall be my people and I shall be your God.  Giving the “law” to the people constituted a contract, a law that was absolute: Don’t even think about disobeying!  A law can be a paritycontract (made between two equal partners to the agreement) or a unilateral contract.  It is a law between a much superior party to be subscribed to by a weaker party, which has been aided or rescued by the superior party.  In the ancient Middle East, a superior party (a king) might save the hide of the inferior party and the weaker recipient would agree to the terms of the contract out of gratitude.


 


In the case of the Hebrew refugees, God revealed a grace not capable of human desire or effort.  God did not say, “Look what I did for you, now guess what you get to do for me?”  God saved them and gave them an additional gift–guidelines for living life and for loving God, for loving those within the community and for loving those who would become Israel’s neighbors.  God’s gift and his unique partnership with those in the desert was nothing that could be denied by sane human beings.  The God of Sinai was proving himself to be a good ally.


 


The event of Jesus marked the birth of the new Israel.  The pact with God at Sinai, incorporating God’s goodness extended to people in the wilderness, was taken off the shelf.  Jesus came to endorse the contract and its stipulations and to elaborate upon them in his teachings.  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).  What does it mean to love one’s enemies in our culture today?  It is not easy for modern Americans to avoid making “graven images.”  A man began to lose his commitment to his church over a period of time.  HIs attendance waned, he stopped pledging and his occasional checks in the offering plate disappeared.  First class letters sent to his home were returned stamped, “No forwarding address.”  He was not angry at the elders or deacons and not offended by changes in worship.  He had no bone to pick with the pastor.  He just did not find church “exciting” anymore.  Christianity cramped his style, so he sought more interesting friends and more exciting diversions–and the thrill of less respectable activities.  One day he appeared at worship and the pastor said, “You have been gone a long time.  Why did you come back today?  His answer:  “I have missed the morning trumpets.”  (Was that a “wake-up call?”)  What will it be?  A lifestyle without responsibility?  A stimulating social life with the local movers and shakers or will it be trumpets in the morning?  It is difficult to imagine that God would condemn anyone who must work on Sunday.  How does one obey the commandment to observe the Sabbath in an industrialized economy?


 


What about the commands not to take God’s name in vain, not to steal and not to covet?  Some folks observing American culture are concerned about the passing of civility.  Jon Alter wrote a piece for Newsweek in which he lamented, “We see vicious politics, abominable manners and a dangerously atrophied civic spirit.”  He optimistically believed that people could still say “Thank you” on the bus and “Excuse me” in passing on the stairs.  There are still the cell phones that ring at the movies, drivers who exhibit road rage (even the ones with the Christian fish symbols on their bumpers) and the clerk at the checkout counter regards the buyer as if he/she was a robot or inanimate object.  What has happened to common courtesy?  The commandments are more than the sum of the total, they are guidelines for living in a community.  (After 200+ years folks want them removed from court houses and other public places where they serve as a reminder to better living.)


 


When God is our ally, God’s commandments are not mere “suggestions” as Roseanne Barr once said on her sitcom.  They are the backup system for the law written into the hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).  We already know the differences between right and wrong.  If the gift of the law was not enough evidence for our partnership with God, then there is more:  God’s Son died on the cross for us, bestowing the greatest gift of all from our strong ally–entrance into the kingdom where rules will not be needed.  For the ancients, graven images were poor divine allies.  The God of Moses spoke from the mountain; he did not threaten.  God gave the people of Moses a great gift: the gift of the law.  If the law were taken seriously, it would go well with the Hebrew people.  Nowthe law has been fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus.  The law helps us to get along with one another but it cannot save us.  Only God’s Son can do that, and praise God, Jesus did!


Amen

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Incredible Blessing – Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

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Message Delivered on March 1, 2015

When I was eight years old, I received a copy of Eggermeier’s Bible Story Book.  I was so excited because it had colored pictures to go with the stories and the words were easier to understand than the King James Version of the Bible my Sunday school class used.  Bible stories are formative, teaching us about God, God’s love, mercy, expectations and blessings.  They teach us how to live and plant seeds if we are willing to allow our minds and hearts to be fertile soil. 


 


Today’s Old Testament lesson in Genesis conveys to us that Abram and Sarai were chosen by God to be blessed in order that they might be a blessing to others.  “I will establish my covenant (binding promise) as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:7).  God promised to make them exceedingly fruitful, which meant to have a large family, necessary to care for animals and properties to sustain all.  What a blessing!  Life would never be the same for them.  God even gave Abram and Sarai new names to start their new beginning as a nation.


 


There was a big problem with God’s promise.  Abram was about ninety-nine and Sarai was around ninety–well past child bearing years.  You can imagine the mixed feelings the couple had.  How would you plan a nursery for an infant if you were between ninety and one hundred?  I preached this text in a nursing home with the average aged resident at ninety-five and asked the folks what they would do if God told them to get ready for the pitter patter of little feet and late night feedings.  They did the same thing as Abram and Sarai–they laughed. Yet, about a year later, God kept his promise and Isaac was born, just as God had promised. (Isaac means laughter in Hebrew.) I am not sure aged couples today would be thrilled with the idea/responsibility of raising an infant in today’s times.  In our Judeo-Christian tradition, Abraham and Sarah have become classic examples of faith.  They recognized the voice of God, understood the call and trusted God’s purpose for their lives and followed in faith and obedience.


 


As we reflect over these faithful servants of the Lord, we need to recognize the big challenges placed before our own lives.  Where are we going with our lives?  How have God’s choices and blessings for each of us shaped our mutual journey so far?  What is it that God wants us to do in the future as a church in this community?  Since 1892 we have been privileged to lead others to faith in Jesus and the power of his resurrection.  We have been drawn together in fellowship to share the love and forgiveness showered upon us as gifts from the Holy Spirit at our baptisms.  We are the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, heirs of the kingdom of God promised to us through faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus said to his disciples, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).  Each of us were called as Jesus’ disciples to be servants of love, hope, joy, peace and forgiveness to others, not to expect those gifts to be served to us on a platter.


 


Who are we called to serve?  Are we called to be self-serving, focused on our own wants and desires, or to serve others in the name of Jesus, to share our blessings from God?  A colleague of mine asked the question, “Who is the customer?”  Are we customers because we have a lengthy wish list for fuller pews, a balanced budget, inspiring choir music, bell choir, and an entertaining pastor who says what is necessary in the fewest words possible so that everyone can get out of church early enough to pursue other interests?  The whole purpose of worship is to come together to praise and thank God for the incredible blessings continually showered upon us as a congregation and as individuals.  Maybe we need to re-visit our church mission statement:


       Building on our rich heritage of faith, we serve God in word,


       prayer and deed.  We witness to God’s love through worship, 


       education, stewardship and fellowship; reaching out to those


       in need.


 


Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests that we develop a personal mission statement in which we focus on the values and principles that are central to our lives. We should use as a primary principle, faith, and focus on what God has in mind.  What is God calling us to do as God’s people in this community?  Are we living up to God’s expectations?  


 


Peter Drucker, an American management consultant, educator and author wrote thirty-nine books contributing to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation.  He suggested that we focus on two very important questions to help us discover the unique role God wants us to explore: 1. What have you already achieved? (competence)  and 2. What do you care deeply about? (passion) The goal is to find something through prayer, that fits something you are good at and something that excites you.  It has been said that 20% of the people do 80% of the work, but remember, God always takes the initiative and usually approaches busy people.  Sometimes we think that if we take time off and go on a retreat, that God might break through to us and we might catch a new vision.  Such belief is not biblically sound.  God’s call to Moses came when he was busy with his sheep at Horeb.  Gideon was busy threshing wheat.  Saul was busy searching for his father’s lost animals.  Elisha was busy plowing.  David was busy caring for his father’s sheep.  Amos was picking figs.  James and John were mending fishing nets.  Lydia was marketing and selling fabrics.  Matthew was collecting taxes and sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, were busy homemakers.  On and on, God issues a call in a specific way for a unique task–that, friends, has not changed.  When we listen carefully and move out with our God-given abilities trusting obediently, great things can happen.


 


When I was called here in 2002, I promised to serve you faithfully, to deliver God’s word and to carry out my assigned duties.  I have grown to love you as family and you have loved me back.  I have been asked to continue the work I was called to do and to take an $8,678.25 pay cut.  I am willing to preach at 1, 2, 3, or more services of worship, as long as we work together to share God’s love, hope, compassion and fellowship, leading others to faith in Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection.


 


Arguing over the time to gather to show glory to God is not the way to honor God for the incredible blessings given to us.  It will not save money to go to one service that a number of people have said in verbal and written opinions they will not attend.  Why don’t we continue to worship at two services to allow for growth and the convenience people have experienced for over twenty-five years?  If you want to see more people in the pews with you, invite friends and offer to give them a ride here.


 


Many of us have heard stories about Dr. Albert Schweitzer.  He held PhDs in medicine, theology, music and philosophy.  He even wrote a book titled A Quest for the Historical Jesus.  In the midst of all his successes, Schweitzer heard an irresistible call from God to be a medical missionary in a small rural village in Africa.  He spent the rest of his life there and the hospital continues to thrive.


 


We need to wonder whom God will call next to make a difference in some small way in our broken world.  Would you like to be more fulfilled in your life and responsive to your faith?  God has a plan for all of us.  Maybe the plan is not as grandiose for us as was the case with Abraham or David or Dr. Schweitzer, but it is still significant, purposeful and rewarding.


 


George Bernard Shaw said, “Life is no brief candle to me.  It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.”  We have a lot to do to share our incredible blessings.  

Amen.


Categories: Weekly Sermon