Sermon 5-20-18 Acts 2:1-21
You may find it hard to believe, but there have been times in my life when I have not been very patient. I have never liked to wait for things. Pentecost, which began long before the first century, meant “wait”. Jews within 20 miles were legally bound to attend. Others were strongly urged to go. It was one of the three pilgrimage feasts when entire households of Israel gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the goodness of God toward their nation.
At this Pentecost celebration, most of the Jewish population had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate God’s love for them before they even knew about God and to look forward to and wait for the day when God would do what they could not do and exalt them to the place of honor that they felt they had been promised.
They called this hoped for event “the day of the lord.” In this experience, the entire world would be shaken from its foundations and the forces of the universe would lose their cohesion and strength. This time of terror and judgment was foretold prior to the Mayans, Nostradamus and the pastors that predict the end of the world every other month. The Jews had dreamed of the day of the Lord and now many people said that Jesus was the messiah; that God had come as a person to save the world.
As the smell of roast lamb filled the place where they were, suddenly there was the sound of a great wind, rumbling like a tornado and pandemonium broke loose. Everything was coming loose and people were acting crazy. Luke, who wrote Acts, described the spirit’s entrance into the house as a rushing, violent wind. It filled the entire place so that no space escaped its occupation. The wind morphed into forked tongues of fire dancing over their heads. What was first felt but not seen became recognizable as the incarnation of God’s spirit.
Just as the fire filled the house, it filled the people, enabling them to speak plainly in various human languages. The people were shocked because they recognized the speakers as Galileans. The reality is that God speaks through storms, flames and exuberant utterances, but some of us hear God more clearly in quiet words of reassurance, in the promise that the spirit will be with us deeper than our troubles. For most of us, God is not loud and overwhelming, but quiet, directing, and comforting. In Acts 2, we read that God sends God’s spirit for many to see. At the time there were about 120 disciples who followed Jesus from place to place, of course the 11 apostles (remember Judas was gone and had not been replaced); all were praying and waiting.
Peter immediately dispels rumors of an inebriated group of speakers. It was the third hour of the day or 9 a.m. We know a lot more about the members of this first century house church. They come from different social backgrounds. They did not lead lives that would be qualified as saintly and interesting; they seemed to have great conversation with Paul. It is not simply that Paul told them what to do and they did it. They challenged Paul and offered their interpretations as passionately as Paul argued his. In the time we rely on scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. This is a healthy model for integrating dispute and disagreement into the modern church which still thinks about what it should and shouldn’t be and how it should act in this world.
God’s Holy Spirit enabled the early followers to share the story of the risen Christ with people who did not have a covenantal relationship with a God or understand that God promised a messiah to save all people.
Seeing the wonders of creation and providence doesn’t just encourage us to say, “Wow! This God is pretty great.” Instead, they compel that the blight of sin be removed so that creation may be entirely what God intends for it to be. Sin, in John’s gospel, is not about moral failings. Primarily it’s an inability or refusal to recognize God’s revelation when confronted by it. In Jesus Christ, God has indeed dealt decisively with the blight of sin, not by slaughtering sinners, but by redeeming them.
In Psalm 104 (24-35) there’s a solid connection with the story of Pentecost. It talks of God sending out God’s spirit for the creation and renewal of the world. Pentecost also deals with God sending out the spirit for the creation and renewal of the church.
We pray for and hope for God’s spirit to act in us, upon us and through us, making visible and tangible God’s promise to be present, to empower and to compel testimony about how God interjects into diverse cultures, languages and life situations.
In Galatians 12, we read about the Fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, greatness, and self-control. Our role as God’s people is to make God’s presence felt, heard, and seen, compelling us to interpret, as best we can, what we have felt, heard and seen.
The recognition that Jesus is Lord, cannot happen unless the spirit is at work within the person who confesses that we celebrate that Jesus saved us and guides our life. We cannot recognize Jesus as the messiah through our own abilities and thus have no preliminary grounds for boasting. Rather, we’re all dependent upon the spirit in our ability to confess Christ as the director of our lives as well as the variety of gifts that we bring to the community.
The spirit functions as an enabling force, but the spirit also levels the playing field. No one can pretend that they do not need the spirit to recognize the lordship of Jesus or to develop their own particular gifts.
Too many churches have locked their doors to a vibrant understanding of the Holy Spirit in their midst. Because of this, we are unable to bear witness to Christ in a world that is becoming less and less receptive to the call of God.
Maybe it would inspire us to be bold and creative witness if we saw the risen Christ miraculously pass through our barricaded doors. But probably all it takes is for us to see that Jesus is already present, dwelling within us and eager to enlist us to carry on Christ’s work of setting people free.
The Holy Spirit is not the private property of an enlightened few or a transitory presence. Instead, it belongs to the people of God. Remember how the spirit rested on each person. God’s spirit was a clear sign of God’s faithfulness. Spirit filled apostles were inspired to preach, interpret scripture, perform miracles and lead the church.
In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, we read that the gifts of this spirit are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, and speaking in tongues.
The early church was filled with many people who thought that the gift God had given them was pretty much the greatest. But the Holy Spirit is not some personal gift from God. It marks people that belong to God, for the good of all people.
Luke wanted to avoid people focusing on a particular gift to the detriment of others and excluding the people who practice that particular gift. Christians need to move away from a state of mind in which one judges the achievements (or lack) of others. Rather, they need to concentrate on the manner in which each and every gift is used so that the earthly body of Christ can remain united and strong.
Jesus bestowed peace upon his worried followers. Great! He filled them with the Holy Spirit. Wonderful! Jesus told them they can forgive other people’s sins. Huh? I thought that only God could do that.
Jesus was not appointing the church to be some sort of moral watchdog, nor did he commission it to arbitrate people’s assets and liabilities on a heavenly balance sheet. God’s spirit gives the church dynamic power that enables the church to give effective witness to God’s love in our world.
It’ sort of like graduation. It’s no longer time to wait. It’s time for action and mission. The resurrected Christ tells his followers and us that through the spirit that enables them to bear witness, that they can help people become free and release them from fear and debilitating guilt that keeps them from accepting God’s forgiveness. We can be a part of seeing others come to believe in Jesus and what God’s spirit does in our lives.
Last week I mentioned how God’s spirit comforts us, It also empowers the church for world missions. Failure to bear witness, Jesus warns, will result in the opposite; a world full of people left unable to grasp the knowledge of God. That is what it means to retain sin (the opposite of setting free). Jesus was not granting the church a unique spiritual authority. He is simply reporting that a church that does not bear witness to Christ is a church that leaves itself unable to play a role in delivering people from all that keeps them from experiencing the fullness that Jesus offers.
God is at work in each of us, giving us different gifts that can & should be celebrated, but more importantly, used for the building up of the kingdom of God, not to create division, but unity, for we are the community of God.
Sometimes we feel the spirit, often we hear the spirit, but always, we see the result of the spirit. We cannot mandate how, when, where, or to what extent God will act. Like watching things in the wind, we can’t see the wind, but we can see result of the wind.
The scripture describes a particular manifestation of God’s spirit and promise. A heightened expectation of being renewed and reborn. Such intensity between God and us is but one result of the rich Easter confession about what happens when God raises a corpse to new life. God acts, not far from us, but in and through us. Amen
Sermon 5-13-18 Philippians 2:1-13
Many of us have friends and family who don’t believe in God. They don’t know what it’s like to never feel alone. For them, life on earth is all there is, and so it is natural that they strive for the world’s values--money, popularity, power, pleasure, and prestige. They live primarily to impress others and bring happiness to their days.
Often people excuse selfishness, pride, or evil by claiming their rights. As followers of Jesus, we know that we should not selfishly cling to our rights, but seek ways to willingly serve others. For Paul, however, to live meant to develop eternal values and to tell others about Christ, who alone could help them see life from an abundant and eternal perspective.
This morning’s scripture addresses one of the most difficult issues of the Christian faith, the way that God entered our world as Jesus, maintaining his deity while assuming a human body and nature. Becoming human he was able to relate better to people. The fancy word that we use for this is Incarnation.
One of the main points that Paul made was that Jesus is part of God, but that he refused to seize for his own, the glory that belonged to him. Instead of aspiring to a higher status, he gave up what he had. He abdicated his divine rank and assumed the form of a servant. He did not disguise himself as a servant, but became one. He identified with us to the point of voluntarily experiencing death. In His humiliation on the cross, Jesus Christ, the savior, of the world won the victory over sin and death and the power of evil. God the Father gave Jesus honor and glory.
Paul compared Jesus to Adam who intended to have dominion and be like God, but who lost all this in his grasping. In comparison, Jesus emptied himself and allowed Himself to be humiliated in order to reveal what God is like. Paul said that Jesus adopted the form of a slave, with all of its dishonor and lack of privileges. This is the complete opposite of claiming equality with God.
In those days, particular values were attached to names. If a soldier took his oath in the name of Caesar, he thereby becomes Caesar's man. To give someone a name was to give them certain status or power. The name that we give Jesus to designate this is “lord”. The original meaning of lord was “master” or “owner”. Like a King with subjects, it was a title of respect. The name given Jesus as lord is to bestow on Jesus the name that is above every other name. He is the king of kings and the lord of all lords and emperors. When Jesus was called “Lord”, it meant that he was in charge of all life. To honor our lord, we bow and confess who and what Jesus is to us. I wish we had a word that might speak better to modern society. Maybe Director, Boss, Leader, CEO, Mentor. Christians are baptized into the name of Jesus and thus yield ourselves to Jesus’ will and protection. To be a Christian is to confess that Jesus owns us. At the name of/in the name and power of, recognizing and believing this, everyone shall bow and allow Jesus to direct our lives.
Jesus did a lot more than talk. Christ modeled mutual care of others by his humiliation on our behalf. “Be of one mind and purpose and attitude. Have the same kind of love as Christ who poured himself out for all creation through his humility and obedience.”
Instead of beating up the early Christians, Paul said that the Philippines were children of God without blemish/fault/blame in a crooked/perverse/depraved generation and that as followers of Jesus they should be like light in the darkness, acting in ways that are straight in a world of crookedness, distortion, and warped and twisted ways. Our words, acts, choices and priorities bring the message of God’s love and mercy.
Paul urged the Philippians to be what they already were as followers of Christ, to think and act in ways that will not allow anyone to find anything in them to blame or find fault. Paul invites followers of Christ to labor to the point of utter exhaustion, putting the last ounce of strength and energy which we possess into what we do and say.
Christian love seeks the good of all, not just loving those that love us, knowing that God will give us the power to love people that we don’t like, even those we find unlovable and unlovely.
We demonstrate our faith in Christ by counting others better than ourselves (or at least as good). This decision to change is difficult because we have to give up feeling superior to others, and put others in line before us.
Controversies in churches are not new. The jealousy and ambition of two women in the church at Philippi almost destroyed the first century church. The Bible doesn’t say, but I suspect it had to do with an election to some office/committee.
The gracious action of Jesus as “Lord” requires a response, namely the obedience of faith that seeks to give God honor and praise. Many translations say that we should “fear” God. The problem is that the word that means “awe/respect” is heard as the sort of fear and trembling of a slave about to be punished. Fear is a good thing when it reminds us of our sense of weakness, inadequacy, and powerlessness to deal with life and temptations. Fear does not cause us to hide from God, but to seek God, knowing that without God we cannot face life. When we love someone, we are not afraid of them as much as we are afraid that we might disappoint them or hurt them. Fear causes us to focus, to wonder and to have admiration .
Part of the right attitude includes doing all things without useless disputing, debating, doubting, murmuring and questioning, like a mob that is about to turn on their leaders or the Israelites on the way to the promised land.
My experience is that there are three causes of discord and disunity in groups of people—selfish ambition, desire for personal prestige (empty glory, higher seat, one’s opinion sought, known by name, listened to, flattered, fame, shelf-display, upstaging and concentration on self) and selfishness.
Too often, people allow themselves to get in the way of the good of others. If we are going to have healthy, happy relationship, they will spill over with trust, communication, and shared goal, attitudes, values, and purpose. People will be secure in their sense of who and what they are as a person which leads to a healthy humility toward God and other people, not false modesty or lack of self esteem, but recognition of the rights and achievements of others. Concern for the interests of others as well as one’s own is in line with the commandment to love our neighbor as yourself. What I’m talking about here is unity, not uniformity. Or the difference between Unison and harmony. Unity happens when we find things upon which we can agree, loving and having the same mind set on the same thing, not being selfish and having no interest in empty glory. It can never be about the interest of one or a few, but the needs and interests of the community or organization.
Some say that you cannot follow Jesus unless you hold to certain beliefs, ways of worship, acts and ceremonies, creeds, sacraments, rites, or correct morals. Following Jesus is a state of mind, a disposition that desires to know and serve God and God’s children.
Those times when I have found myself living for myself alone was self-torture because I wear myself out nursing needless grudges and protecting my false pride. The tensions of keeping up with the process of living primarily for our elf is more than our nerves can stand.
It takes more than will power to save us from ourselves. Our friends in AA have rediscovered the truth that the working of God begins when self sufficiency reaches the end of its rope. Renovation only happens when the human will becomes weak and desperate. So long as we think that we have everything under control we remain incurable. Self sufficiency makes us religiously unreceptive. This is a common disease—self satisfaction
Sin is anything that separates us from our life-giving God. Being separated from God results in a hellish separation from the life we were created for and its punishment is merely the consequence of shutting out God and trying to live with an unredeemed self.
We cannot live by the law or by trying to make up for previous failures. The effort to be better or do better when it is motivated by fear or the threat of punishment does not succeed. We do and do not do what we do because of our gratitude for all that God has done in our lives.
The good news that I share today is that the self-giving spirit of God works amid broken, human selfishness as one that supports, advocates, comforts, helps, and strengthens.
Sermon 5-6-18 A Setback that Caused Progress Philippians 1:1-18a
I’ve been behind bars a few times…….. to visit someone incarcerated. The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, spent several years in one terrible jail or another for telling people about Jesus.
A few weeks ago we talked about Paul in jail and how through Paul, God had healed a demon possessed girl, which interfered with her master’s profit. That imprisonment gave him a chance to make a friend of his jailer, save his life, and reunite him with God.
Paul was seen as both a prize catch and a flight risk so he was guarded by the very best of the Roman army; sort of like the Navy Seals of that day who very soon realized that his misfortune had something to do with his religion. He believed in some new divinity called “Christ” and had brought trouble on himself by his devotion to this strange faith. Who was this Christ who inspired his followers with such willingness to suffer?
The soldiers assigned to Paul were changed each day, and one man after another would talk about him to his comrades and the faith Paul shared, so that Paul could say quite truly that the whole guard was aware of why he was a prison and not only the guards but all who were in any way connected with the guards, civilians, and their families. Another result of the imprisonment was that there was a church in the city, and through Paul’s imprisonment, and his example, most of its members had been stirred into fresh activity.
Paul’s imprisonment, far from shutting the door, opened the way to new spheres of work and activity, into which he would never otherwise have penetrated. He regarded every circumstance as an experience of grace; therefore, his first response to his imprisonment was thanksgiving, not petition. In his letter to them, he remembered the Philippians constantly—with joy, with confidence, and with a love that is more than human affection, because it derives from Christ himself.
Paul would naturally have spoken of his affliction, but he refused to think of his experience that way. He felt that by allowing him to suffer in defense of the gospel, God has bestowed upon him a high privilege in which the Philippians are also sharing.
Paul said that he was a “slave” of Christ. He had chosen to attach and to give himself, not as a servant of Christ, but as a slave. A servant is free to come and go, to attach themself to another master, but a slave is the possession of his master forever. He laid down his life as one who is the absolute possession of Christ and he can never belong to anyone but Christ. As a slave, he would not have a will of his own. His master’s will must be his will and his master’s decisions must regulate his life. Paul saw his time in prison as a setback that caused progress
What he demonstrated was an expression of the Christian way, in all its heights and depths, by one who lived it out, fought it out, and thought it out under the severest pressure to the bitter end. What had happened inside of Paul can happen in every human being and so create a fellowship of kindred spirits, a community of God where there are no longer any distinctions of race, color, position or age.
Those who loved him, when they heard of him lying in prison, redoubled their efforts to preach, and to spread the gospel, so that the sharing of the gospel would lose nothing because of Paul’s imprisonment.
Modern people tend to be suspicious of messages from God as some magical method of bringing knowledge that we accept without thinking. Generations have been trained in the painful search for truth, taking nothing for granted save that which can be proven step by step, making it difficult for people to understand how special knowledge is given to be accepted on faith.
“In Christ” should be understood not as some mystical absorption into divinity, but as being “in the power” of another. We believe that being “in Christ” brings us peace and joy; the joy of those we love and who are dear to us, the joy of sharing Christ with someone, the joy of true Christian fellowship, the joy of being with those we love and from which we are separated, and the joy of Christian hospitality.
This passage is about a man who is not looking for an easier life; but one who has found what to live for because he has found what to die for.
All too often we resent it when someone else gains prominence or a credit or a prestige which we do not receive, or we regard someone as an enemy because they do not do things our way.
Paul knew nothing of personal jealousy, or personal resentment. So long as Jesus Christ was preached, Paul did not care who received the credit and the honor and the privilege. He did not care what some of the Philippians preachers said about him, or how unfriendly and contemptuous they were to him. All that mattered to him was that Christ was preached. I am reminded of how Rick Warren began his famous book “The Purpose Driven Life” with the sentence “It’s not about you.”
Of all his churches, the church at Philippi was the church to which Paul was closest so he took the opportunity of telling the Philippians how fervently he prays for them, and how much he rejoices in their kindness to him and their progress in the Christian life.
When Paul finally turned to making requests, they are for the Philippians, and not for himself. He asked that God would help them know right from wrong and give them common sense. Paul prayed that they would grow in faith within their Christian lives, that their love might overflow and that it may be enriched by spiritual knowledge and spiritual insight. You may not realize it, but I pray for you folks several times every day. I pray that all of us will grow in our love and faith and knowledge and common sense and sensitivity and common sense.
Paul’s prayer does not imply that every occasion or part of the journey will in itself be good, but that the God who began the good work in us will complete it. ’’Paul speaks warmly and personally to his friends. “I hold you in my heart. I yearn for you.” May your love grow more and more.
Paul's confidence in what God will do is not just a vague hope. It is based firmly on what God has done in the past and on his conviction that God is consistent. God has begun a good work and will not give up; it will be completed.
Christians are people who have recognized a common gift of the undeserved love of God. Christians are partners in the work of the gospel and partners in suffering for the gospel because of the hope that is theirs. The love that Paul felt toward his Christian friends is nothing other than love.
True Christian love for others is not a sentimental affection but a sincere desire for what is best for others. Love is often said to be blind, but such blindness can stop us from discerning the deepest need of those we love. True love, on the other hand, requires knowledge and insight in order to help people reach their full potential.
Christians are members of a community and their commitment to each other is expressed in Christian fellowship. Fellowship is what happens when Christians share with one another their common faith and their inward fellowship with Christ.
God has always had people who are set aside, different from others for a special work and function. The “set aside” are especially used of the Jewish nation itself. The Jews were the first holy nation, given a special place in the plan and the scene and the purpose of God. But the Jews refused to play the part in life and history which God meant them to play. When God came into our world as a baby, they failed to recognize him. They rejected him and crucified him.
The privileges and the responsibilities they should have had were taken away from the nation of Israel and were given to the church who became the new people of God, just as the Jews had once been, Christians are made holy. Christians must be the different ones. Clearly, to be “in Christ” is the very essence of Christianity. Christians live in Christ like a bird in the air, a fish in the water, or the roots of a tree in the soil. To be in Christ is to live continually in the atmosphere and the spirit of Christ, to live a life where never more do we feel separated from him, but feel his presence and his strength and his power always around us and about us.
The result of Christ’s followers seeking to be more and more like Jesus is that we find peace in spite of all the crazy things going on around us. The word for this peace is
Shalom which health and wholeness.
As followers of Jesus or the “body” of Christ, we form a community of imperfect people, who are ready to be forgiven and forgive and who have offered themselves to be continually remade in unforeseen ways, the spirit of God extends God’s operation from Christ into the world, spreading from one individual to another, and from one family to another, from one generation to another, from one nation to another.
We are won over by friendship, when we see faith enacted as a selfless spirit that seeks us out while we are yet in our selfishness, which suffers for our ingratitude, which takes upon itself our troubles, and which lives for our sake.
Paul prays for a healthy dose of common sense among the Christians so that they will choose greater values over lesser values as they grow in their faith and service.
History has turning points which are seen only as we look back to where the unexpected began. In our private lives some minor incident, some incomprehensible misfortune may bring on consequences which reveal a larger context. Living is like rowing a boat, moving forward by looking backward to gain the perspective of our course. So long as we cannot know the future we must depend upon a purpose that began before we came and goes on after we are gone.
This passage is an inspiring story about an early church leader, who endured extreme hardship because of his faith, but it also suggests that the next time that life takes a funny bounce; we won’t rush to try to fix it or try to figure out how we are going to endure it or get by. Instead, we’ll praise God for everything that happens and watch as God turns our setbacks into some purpose through which God can be glorified.
Sermon 4-29-18 Cluttered with Altars Acts 17:--16-31
Have you ever been somewhere that you felt that you just didn’t fit? Maybe it was a huge mega city where you didn’t know how to get around or where to eat or stay for the night. Perhaps it was an area with hundreds of miles between towns. Maybe the people spoke a different language.
At that time, Athens was the greatest university community in the world. It was sort of the intellectual Mecca. But it was also a city of many gods. It was said that there were more statues of gods in Athens than in all the rest of Greece put together. In Athens it was easier to meet a god than a person. I assume that the idols were to things like the sun god and the rain god and the god who they thought could stop the rain when there was too much.
In Paul’s first words, he intended to cultivate the impression that he is a skilled practitioner of the scholar’s trade and had gone through the city and looked carefully at the objects of their worship, concluding that the Athenians were extremely religious. Paul was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. His response to them was one of Jewish outrage.
Paul engaged in an honest non hostile exchange with his “scholarly peers”. They included members of divergent schools of thought primarily interested in practical rather than theoretical discourse. Athens was famed for the number of religious cults to which it gave hospitality. The citizens were ever ready to listen to the latest philosopher and to engage in dialectical debate – but usually in a purely academic spirit and with no real desire to discover truth for truth’s sake.
Paul’s technique was to begin by acknowledging their curiosity for religion, by giving them ample credit for what they already had. He was making every effort to meet the intellectuals where they were.
There were two major philosophical groups in Athens. The first was the Epicureans, based on the thinking of Epicurus who lived about 300 bc and believed happiness was the main aim in life. Epicureans were materialistic and believed that human life existed by natural chance, Avoidance of pain and suffering was a second aim of this life.
The second group were the stoics who followed the teaching of Zeno, believing that we must not care about whatever happened since it is God’s will Stoics, were hard rationalists, guided by their analytical observations and careful reasoning. They sought to live in harmony with the cosmos.
Those in Athens even had altars to unknown gods. How can you worship Gods that you don't know? It’s like saying you have been to a place but you don’t know for sure if it is real. Or saying you have read a book that has not been printed yet. It’s like sending letters of thanks to everyone you know in case someone has ever done anything for you. How can you worship what you don’t know? You worship what you do know. Paul said that they lived in a time of human ignorance when what is unknown about God is the hallmark of the intellectual’s devotion.
Paul was taken into custody to determine whether he had sufficient “intellectual” authority to bring his “strange teaching” into Athens. To establish a new religion in Athens: 1. The sponsor must claim to represent a deity; 2. He must provide evidence that this deity is eager to reside in Athens; 3. The Deity’s residence in Athens must benefit Athenians as a mark of its goodwill.
Paul stood in front of the Areopagus, which was a court and addressed his auditors directly by name. His prosecutors and judges in this case were more intellectually curious than hostile. They appeared to reflect keen interest in learning something new from Paul: “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?” The council had a disappointing response to his speech. Paul spoke and explained his call to conversion which is then rejected.
They assumed that he was crazy. They had a statue to every god imaginable, even those they couldn’t imagine. How could there be another god? How could Paul know something that the wisest people in the world did not? They were like the man who didn’t want to be confused with the facts because his mind was already made up.
Paul’s claims were not a matter of theological proofs but also of personal faith, but the Athenians scornfully interrupted Paul at the very moment he turned his speech toward the resurrection of Jesus and God’s coming triumph. His proclamation that the living Jesus is the only Messiah and the one Lord means that all other competing loyalties and practices must be set aside in order to begin a new life with him. Most in Athens are unable to do this, and many people today face a similar challenge when they encounter the gospel.
Paul declared, preached, and proclaimed the living God who made the heaven, the earth and seas and all that is in them. He called them to turn from these worthless idols to the living God. His message was that God made the world and everything in it without aid of another and is therefore Lord of heaven and earth.
They were worshipping unworthy gods who are neither personal nor provident. This may be ‘religious’ – but it is also non-rational because impersonal deities contained in an idol or an image cannot produce personal happiness. He told them about the God who was the source of all life, the indwelling spirit of every single individual.
The deduction that Paul draws is that no creature of the natural cosmos is capable of domesticating the creator. God doesn't live in shrines made by human hands. Paul’s God was THE God. God doesn’t have to be brought to Athens. God is already in Athens.
Like most people, they had a deep-seated desire to worship something. The city was filled with objects of worship. You might say the place was cluttered with altars.
Their response was to accuse Paul of being a proclaimer of a foreign god, presenting new teaching that sounded strange to them.
Paul was called a babbler. This was someone accustomed to hanging around the streets and markets picking up things which fell from carts or someone who picks up scraps of information and retells them second hand...He was seen as a babbler of secondhand ideas that were no longer relevant or important. Paul was perceived to be an ignorant plagiarist.
I heard a story once about a man who spoke to a pastor after worship one Sunday. “Each sermon you preach is worse than the one before it”, the man said. “Don’t worry about him” a second man spoke up, “He’s the village idiot. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He just repeats what he hears.”
It was typical of the Athenians that all they wanted was to talk. They did not want action. There were three main reactions. 1. Some mocked. They were amused by the passionate earnestness of this strange Jew. 2. Some put him off, saying, “we will hear about this again”. 3. Some may have believed, even though scripture does not mention it.
Athens is the only place Paul’s preaching didn’t provoke persecution and the only place also where he met with almost complete failure. The good news is that even though the response was not great, they let him go free.
God has made people so that instinctively we long for God. There is that in people which makes us seek and grope in the darkness after God, to ascertain meaning, to earnestly strive after, to endeavor, to desire, to feel for, and grope about.
While we should admit that some skeptics reject out of hand the very idea of a spiritual reality, most do give expression to their spiritual yearning by their adherence to the values and core convictions of one or another ‘ism’ – scientism, materialism, individualism, nationalism, naturalism, and so on. A commitment to any of these worldviews shapes loyalties and informs decisions. Whatever we give our times and thought and energy to can become our “god”.
Paul told the people that God is in all nature and humanity yet personal. God is not some provincial deity, the God of a few; nor is God unmoved and unconcerned about the struggles of real people in particular places. God is truly worthy of worship.
Paul’s intent was to expose the faulty logic of religious devotion whose chief symbols—shrines, idols, food offered to gods and pagan rituals—are inconsistent to the inherent character of God’s relations with humankind. God must be worshipped in accordance with who God is and religious practices must reflect humanity’s kinship with God. The substitution of inanimate materials for a God who is both loving and animate makes no sense.
There have been times in history when the church has closed its mind. It closed its mind to modern astronomy and tried Galileo for heresy. It closed its mind to modern medicine and held back the great movement for the relief of suffering. It closed its mind to evolution and classed Darwin among the heretics of the human race. Whenever the church closes its mind, it might as well close its doors for at that moment it ceases to take the minds of people seriously.
But God does not live in temples, shrines, sanctuaries or some holy place where only priests can enter. God exists in the hearts and lives of people God's church and that church is called to worship. The Greek word used for worship in today’s scripture is therapeuo which means “to serve”
We are the representative of Christ in our world when we learn and teach and sing and pray and tell others the good news we have experienced. One of the most visible ways the world sees what we believe is when we give up time and energy and resources for the good of others.
We don’t worship an unknown God or a God who we think controls one aspect of life. We worship and serve a God who is everywhere, who loves us more than we can imagine and who will be with us in the best and worst of times and in the clutter of altars.
Sermon 4-22-18 Jailhouse Rock Acts 16:16-34
Last week we talked about the conversion of Saul the bounty hunter into Paul the missionary and early church leader. We’ve talked a lot about being aware of God in our lives and the many miracles that God creates. Today’s scripture is about several miracles. Try to find them. Paul and his friend Silas were in Philippi in Greece, looking for a place to pray when they were approached by a young slave girl who was known around town for her ability at telling people’s fortunes. In those days, people would not make an important decision without checking with a psychic of some sort.
Our scripture tells us about throwing money down in front of this girl and she would then tell them what she saw in their future. Her master would then scoop up the money and smile as he trotted off to the bank. Not only was the girl being exploited, but also the gullible people that thought she had some special power. The people assumed that anyone who acted in such a
way was possessed by a demon. Modern doctors might suggest that she had some sort of mental illness. But none of this mattered to the girl’s master, because she was making him very rich.
Whenever she saw Paul and Silas were out in public, telling people about Jesus, she would come up near them and tell everyone that they were from God and had been sent to reconnect people with God in real ways. At first, this was a minor annoyance, but soon became a major a disruption.
Paul and Silas realized that her actions were caused by demons and didn’t want to be associated with her or have her endorse them. What she was saying was true, but this negative publicity was destroying any credibility or integrity the disciples had. In response to all that was going on, empowered by God, Paul caused the demons to come out of the girl, which was very good, except that the man who was making money from her realized that because of the healing, his huge profit from her had just vanished. In retaliation, he had Paul and Silas beaten and thrown in jail on the charges that they were inciting a riot. The only thing that Paul or Silas were guilty of was being Jewish in a non-Jewish town.
Afraid that they might be troublemakers, the jailer had them placed in a cell with no windows or direct access to other prisoners. There they sat in a cold, dark, wet cell, their bodies aching from the beating they had received, their hands and feet chained so they could not move.
Paul and Silas could have given in to their emotions and started screaming, complaining,
shouting, whining or crying. But, instead of being angry, Paul prayed and sang some hymns of praise to God. As they had done in the streets of Philippi, they were doing what they believed to be God’s desire, and yet, the more they said or did, the more they were punished. What do you do when something bad happens to you that you don’t like and maybe don’t deserve? Do you pray or pout?
In response to his actions and words of faith, God caused the doors of the prison to open and the chains to fall off of Paul and the other prisoners.
I think that praying and singing hymns was a great thing for Paul to do, and would be good thing for us to remember the next time something terrible happens in our lives. Instead of being unhappy and mad at God we need to realize that God is going to help us in the way that God wants as well as when God thinks is right.
We all have chains that keep us from being happy, things that limit us from finding true joy. I pray many times every day that God would remove our chains and make us free. Throughout the prison, the jailers and the other prisoners who were there for various reasons listened and wondered how these men could have this sort of faith. How could they be so calm and relaxed and continue to believe that God was good and powerful when something very bad was happening to them? How could they continue to trust God and believe that God would take care of them and provide what they needed?
I had a meeting at a fast food restaurant recently. During our visit, the other person complained over and over because the hot chocolate was too watery. We get upset when we have a bad hair day. We complain about the smallest of things. Just as important as how Paul and Silas were able to have the sort of faith that they had, is the question of how we can learn to respond to the unjust suffering of our lives with the sort of faith that we read about here.
In our scripture, we read that there was a terrific earthquake freeing everyone in the prison. It is amazing that this violent disturbance did not cause anyone to be hurt, or at least we don’t read about it. It’s interesting that people from the town didn’t come to see if everyone was alright, which leads me to believe that the doors and bars of the jail were the only things affected in town. I guess it was like the surgical air strikes that the military carries out with their smart bombs.
When the head of the prison realized that the prisoners were free to escape, he grabbed a sword, intending to kill himself. He knew that if any prisoner escaped, his punishment was death. This was the situation with the guards outside Jesus’ tomb.
Just as the jailer was about to fall on his sword, Paul cried out that none of the prisoners had tried to escape. Beyond the miracle of broken chains, and unlocked doors was the fact that no one took advantage of the situation and high tailed it out of there as quickly as they could. They too were changed by the power of God that could make injured, innocent men praise him from prison. They wanted to know about how God worked in people’s lives through Jesus. They wanted to find faith in this God that Paul and Silas talked about and served.
Hearing that no one had escaped, the jailer rushed in and asked Paul how he could get to know this God that gave Paul such peace in the midst of suffering and who is more important to the prisoners than their physical freedom. Paul told all of them that it was really about believing what God had done and staking our future on what God could and would do. The jailer realized the power of God and the difference it could make in his life. He had power, but they had peace and hope and freedom. The jailer was totally changed. He knelt down at their feet and washed their wounds. He then went back to his family and told them what had happened. They too came to believe and were all baptized to demonstrate their belief in what God had and could do in their lives.
How could Paul and Silas sing hymns of praise while they sat in chains? They were able to do this because first and foremost, they belonged to Christ. As followers of Christ, they had a freedom that cannot be enchained by anything else in life. They found that they could ignore the circumstances of our lives and give God the praise that God deserves. Doors of opportunity fling open and fears and doubts that bind you will unfasten and fall to the floor. This is what happens when we turn to faith. When we trust Jesus it rocks the very foundations of our various forms of imprisonment.
Following Christ was a walk of faith for Paul and Silas. Things were far from easy, but they believed that God was going to be with them no matter what, empowering them and enabling them. Because of their faith, they were able to face physical suffering, imprisonment, and the possibility of death, singing, praying and worshipping.
Had the witness of Paul and Silas come from people whose lives were a bed of roses, it would have little impact on those who heard them. But for them to demonstrate their faith in the midst of great suffering, now that has impact.
Beyond seeing and affirming what God did in a first century jail, I think that this scripture says a great deal about what God can do in our lives. We may not be chained up in a dark, damp prison cell, but we all have things that keep us from being all that God calls us to be. The good news is that there is nothing that God cannot free us from, not even the result of our separating ourselves from God which encapsulates us with its draining, burdening weight.
Beyond the prayers and songs, I’m sure that Paul and Silas shouted out about God’s amazing love for humans. I imagine that the jailer heard their shouting. After the earthquake subsided, and he realized that the prisoners would rather stay and hear more about this loving, caring, forgiving savior, than flee into the darkness, the guy who ran the prison did not ask for a lot of explanation. Instead, he asked what he had to do to be saved. Because of the words, actions and attitudes of Paul and Silas, those who had contact with them realized the presence of the risen, regal, righteous and reigning lord.
When the chains fell off their arms and legs, Paul and Silas did not jump up and run away because they knew that they needed to stay and bring real freedom to those who thought they were free because of the earthquake. They knew that the prisoners could run out the open doors, but unless they understood the power that broke the chains, they would not really be
free. Unless they replaced their hopelessness with joy, they would never really find freedom.
This freedom and peace and trust is more than just gritting our teeth and hanging on. This faith is more than some power of positive thinking seminar. This hope is more than just singing “don’t worry, be happy”. It involves rejoicing out of a knowledge that our sense of well being does not depend nor can it be changed by what is happening around us. Peace is not so much an absence of conflict as it is a state of mind that finds strength and courage in the midst of misery.
For me, and I hope for you, this happens when I give up my frantic need for control in my life and place myself in the very hands of God, trusting that in God’s time and in God’s manner, God will make a way for us through the storms of life.
My prayer for each of us is that the next time we find ourselves confined by life; we’ll remember that no matter how much we hurt, God can heal us. No matter how desperate things seem, God can deliver us from our pain. I pray that no matter how separated we might feel from God we might remember that God will love us and free us to live lives that are full, abundant and hope filled.
Sermon 4-15-18 A New World Acts 9:1-19a
The Other Side of Easter
Years ago, when I was about 25, I was a foster parent. Over a four year period, my wife and I had four different kids. When they came to us they were Preschool, Kindergarten, High School Freshman and High School Sophomore. At one point, they were all with us in a 940 sq. ft. house. I have known many other foster families. One had 94 different kids. One woman had 12, all of which she later adopted. I asked her what led her to adopt them. Her response was that when she looked at them, she “saw a new world”.
Our scripture tells us about Saul, who was a Jewish bounty hunter, chasing and breathing down
the necks of people who were part of what they called “the way” so they could be arrested and taken back to Jerusalem and put to death.
“The way” was a powerful metaphor for these early followers of Christ. Instead of being identified
by a set of beliefs, these faithful communities were known by their character in the world. The Christian faith was and is a way of life that moves us back into a new and different relationship with God. A way that compelled individuals, families and communities to leave the safe conditions of home and church to walk on the road that God had set before them.
The “way”, suggests that faith is a living, active process. Jesus asked Saul why he has sought to persecute HIM. When Saul afflicted the faithful, he actually persecuted Jesus himself. Whenever Christians are harassed and abused, Jesus is most deeply present with the oppressed. That too is a distinctive characteristic of “the way” of Jesus. When we are thrown under the bus, Jesus crawls under there with us.
Our scripture says that Saul was blinded by the light of God’s love in Jesus to the point that he had to be led around and that he ate and drank nothing for four days. God seems to work in such unusual ways sometimes. Instead of continuing to dictate instructions from the clouds, Jesus called upon a follower in the city named Ananias. Naturally, Ananias resisted the instructions out of fear of getting too close to Saul and ending up in chains, heading to Jerusalem. Even though they were 150 miles from Jerusalem, they had heard of the reign of terror that Saul had created. Now, he was here, with the legal right to capture all the followers of Jesus that he could.
Even though God spoke to Ananias and told him that he was changing Saul’s life and name and that as Paul, he would be God’s personal representative to the non Jews and even though Saul was able to see again, the people were not sure that they could trust Paul. “Isn’t he the one that wracked havoc in Jerusalem? Didn't he come here to do the same thing, to arrest us and drag us off? Had he changed that much” they asked.
Paul didn't just stop persecuting Christians, but went everywhere telling the story of Jesus and leading thousands to faith in God’s love through Jesus. Paul’s conversion was based on the obedience of both Saul and Ananias. Jesus commanded them to trust each other during this process of conversion. We too need to reach out and embrace each other in spite of our ethnic, cultural, social, and theological differences. He offered a new world. Perhaps if we can share a strong enough vision of that new world it will lead us to a very different live in the present world.
One day I went to see a pastor friend a day or two after they had moved into their new appointment. In the conversation he said that he was “settling in”, that he was adapting to the status quo and that he was adjusting. I’ve mentioned before how you cook a frog. If you put it into hot water, the frog will jump out, but if you start with lukewarm water and warm the water a bit at a time, the frog will adapt and die.
Christians are people who, because we know how the story ends, and the final purposes of God, do not “settle in”. We keep up a “holy restlessness”. We keep moving; keep standing on tiptoes, expectant, because we have been offered a vision of what God is trying to do in our world. Both in times of peace and prosperity and times when the world has knocked everything out of us, we declare ourselves to be God’s people, unshakable in the confidence that nothing can knock us from the place of peace and confidence where we are.
We are on the other side of Easter. The Lilies are gone, but not our hope. The holy and living God is at work in our lives, in the joys and in the times of brokenness as well as in the “in between” times. Often, it is in retrospect that we realize that it was God that was holding us up and keeping us from drowning. We’ve all been there. We’re about to go down for the third time, but we find the strength and courage and direction to try again and again and to follow God’s plan and purpose.
I think back over the time in life when I thought that I had cried all the tears that a person could make, and then I cried 1,000 more. God never sent a bunch of angels to swoop in and make things better. God didn’t replace the pain with rainbow and unicorns, but God did put some people in my life who shared God’s love and, joy came in the morning.
That’s how it has been for me, when I am in over my head and about to lose my mind, my spirit and my way, I feel God’s loving arms, drawing me up from the deep, dark pit in which I had found myself. There have been times when my future seems fearful and uncertain and yet I experienced God’s power to change my heart and my life and I knew that God was in control as I tried confidently to follow Jesus, grieving my losses, even as I tried to stay focused on the bright future that I knew was ahead.
When we believe the story of what God can do in people, especially because we have seen it in our lives, then we can tell that story to others and they will believe it and come to faith for themselves. This does not exempt us from problems in our lives, but we know that life is a series of highs and lows and that being in a valley means that we are approaching a mountaintop. Along the way, we will have to do hard things. We may be skeptical like Ananias. The person that we fear may become the one that God calls us to reach out and touch and embrace as a brother or sister. They might even be someone that we currently see as being beyond God’s redemption.
I’ve known a lot of different people over the years. Some have been saints and some have been
sinners and most were a complex mix of the two. No matter who or what they were, they touched the lives of others, they loved and were loved and they showed the whole world just what they believed through their words and actions. Some of them have made some pretty severe mistakes in their lives and have struggled with addictions. Some have never had a job. Some have disappointed people they loved and who loved them.
We are the church and we do not focus on people’s mistakes, but rather, we focus on the work of the God who loves people, the God who created people and is with us every moment of our lives. I believe that God has a special place in God's heart for people like me who goof up a lot. And the good news is that God promised us that God would never stop seeking those who cause themselves to be separated from God. What do we say to those people that we know that have come to a dead end in their lives and see no hope?
I tell them that their weeping may last for the day, but that joy “will come in the morning”. I tell them a story about a time when I was in a similar situation and knew that I was not smart enough, or creative enough, or sly enough to solve my problem and I introduce them to my good friend Jesus and to the new world and new life that he offers them.
Sermon 4-8-18 John 20:19-31 What Are We Depending On?
What scares you? Some people are afraid of spiders or snakes or failing.
Our scripture begin with a frightening situation. It is few days after the crucifixion. Two of Jesus’ followers are telling the others that they have seen their risen Christ. All of a sudden, Jesus is standing there with them. In the midst of their pain and despair and suffering and doubt, there is Jesus. The Bible says that they were terrified. They thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Jesus didn't try to give them some elaborate explanation. Instead, he suggested that even in the midst of confusing and frightening experiences, that they could find peace a sense of God’s purpose for them. This was exactly what they needed. They had gone to this obscure, out of the way meeting place, hoping that they would not be found by the religious leaders. There, they sat behind locked doors, sulking, praying, discussing, pondering, recalling the last words of Jesus, and trying to make sense of it all.
They had seen their teacher and closest friend killed and they were in shock. They were mourning, and were disillusioned. They had heard that Christ’s body was gone and some had reported that they had seen him, but what exactly was going on? Rumors were circulating like flies at a warm summer picnic. What was true, and what was just an illusion?
The disciples had the right to be afraid. They had seen Jesus nailed to the cross. They knew that no one came away from a cross alive. Jesus had died and with him, all of their hopes and dreams. They had been on an emotional roller coaster, moving from the peak of joy to crushing loss. We’ve all had experiences something like this.
One moment we are on top of the mountain, and the next moment, the mountain is on top of us. And now they were being asked to believe the impossible. Some people are better at dealing with the impossible then others. I’m reminded of the story of Alice in Wonderland and how the Queen of Hearts told Alice that, “sometimes, I believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
The disciples had seen the impossible. They had seen sight brought to the blind and had seen the lame walk and the deaf hear. The problem is that they had not yet experienced the miracle of seeing the risen Christ. They believed in their heads, but not their hearts.
I can only imagine their response when they realized Jesus was alive. They probably jumped around celebrating and hugging one another. Tears were probably flowing down their faces. If they’d had champagne in those days, they would have shaken it and sprayed each other.
Without being asked, Jesus showed them where the nails had gone through his hands and feet and where the spear had been thrust into his side. I can imagine them crying out. “Yes, John was right. Mary was right. He has arisen. He was right when he told them that after three days, he would rise again.”
Can you imagine the joy and excitement? The sorrow of the previous Friday had turned into a sense of joy and peace that they had not experienced before. Those times in our lives when we experience the presence and the power of God in real ways are times of peace that are unlike any other that we know. It is a peace that satisfies all of our hurts and questions.
Jesus offered them peace, a completeness and a divine healing that envelopes people. This word shalom, which Jesus used comes about when everything in our emotional lives, our physical lives and our spiritual lives are in harmony. Jesus knew what they needed and gave them more than they asked for, even before they asked for it. I don’t know how you have tried to achieve this peace, but my experience is that it only happens when God is in charge of my life and I am trying every moment to live with and for and like Christ. Peace is not the lessening of conflict, or a break in the action, but the security and hopefulness that comes from being in the presence of God.
Jesus told his disciples that it was God who has sent him, Jesus told them that he is empowering them and sending them out into the world to save it. Only minutes earlier, they had been huddled in fear behind locked doors, and now they are being sent out to spread the good news of salvation through Christ.
Along about verse 24, our story shifts. At that point, we read that Jesus had left and Thomas who had been gone when Jesus appeared to the others, has entered the room. When they saw their friend Thomas, they tried to explain what they had seen and experienced, but Thomas was a practical man and said that he had to see and experience the resurrected Christ for himself.
Unless he could see and touch, Thomas was not ready to believe. Now, we have all heard this story and nick named him “doubting” Thomas. We are very quick to criticize him for not believing the account his friends had shared. And yet, how often are we just like this? We have heard the message of the gospel so many times and yet we aren’t completely sure that we want to believe or that it is really going to make any difference in our lives. Now, having said that, we need to say that there are times that we need to be skeptical about what we are told. Every used car was not driven by a little old lady who only drove her car to church.
I know that some folks get upset when people raise questions about issues of faith at church. My response is what better place to ask questions? What better place to try to figure out things? What better place to seek answers to life’s ultimate questions?
Suddenly, Jesus stood next to Thomas and invited him to check out the scars in his hands and feet and side. Once again—knew what we needed and offered more than he was asking for before he asked. Jesus doesn't condemn him for his doubts. He knew that doubts are neither good or bad. What is good or bad is what we do with them? Doubt can be a path that leads us to faith or it can be an excuse for making no commitment.
I think that Thomas has gotten a bum rap all these years. He didn’t ask for anything more than Jesus showed the other disciples a week earlier. Thomas just needed to find out for himself, to search for the truth and to believe because God revealed truth to him, not because of what others said. I think that it’s good to trust others, but we also need to search for truth that works for us personally. Thomas refused to say that he believed something that he didn’t. Thomas was uncompromisingly honest. He would not ignore his doubts by pretending that they did not exist. He would not rattle off a creed that he did not understand or support completely. He had to be sure.
Jesus didn’t reject him or criticize him, or lecture him, or get angry with him or leave in disgust, instead, he realized what Thomas needed, and so Jesus instructed him to look and touch. Thomas was overwhelmed and fell to his knees crying, “My lord and my God”.
I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t prove who he was through some miracle, but displayed his scars from the cross. It was through these marks of his physical suffering that Jesus showed that while he was divine, he was also human and could understand the pain that we feel and the ways that we suffer. For me, this makes Jesus even more approachable.
Jesus told the disciples that God’s spirit would be with them and give them all that they needed. God’s spirit accompanies us as we go through our days bringing us contentment and courage and peace.
A lot of churches have those signs out front when you can put announcements and cute, or funny or memorable sayings. I saw one the other day that said, “the tomb is empty----believe”. As I drove by, I wondered if the sign was convincing others. Does it take more than a sign or someone saying something for people to believe?
I’m reminded of the old preacher I was visiting with one day. On his desk was the sermon that he would preach in a few days. In the margin he had written PWSL. Being much less experienced, I didn’t know what these letters meant, so I asked him. Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied that it was a note to himself which reminded him that the point that he was making was weak, so he should speak louder. PWSL. Friends, I’m not sure that speaking louder will automatically convince people of anything. If it did, I’d have the folks that help with the sound system crank it up.
When the disciples heard that the tomb was empty, they didn’t believe. What I try to do is allow God to speak through me, but this is just one part of the chain. Unless we’re seeking the power of God in your life, my words won’t mean much. Unless you’re talking to God like you do your best friend, the things that I say won’t make much sense. Unless you're looking for ways to serve God, my urging you to live out your faith will not be very convincing.
A lot of people are struggling with what they believe and what that means in terms of how they live in response to God’s amazing love for us. As I talk to people, it seems that many are walking that tightrope between faith and disbelief. Like a pendulum that swings back and forth between the two extremes, some days feeling strong and adequate, other days we wonder how God puts up with the many ways that we disappoint God. The first thing I want to say is that you are not alone. The second is that you’ve come to the right place. There’s not a person here today who doesn’t struggle some days. If I’m wrong, I’d like to meet you.
Thomas found the peace that Jesus was promising the disciples and that he promises us. I don’t know about you, but the idea of peace in my life is a welcome thought right now. I’m probably not that different from most people. Many of us are dealing with things that are tearing us apart and making our lives almost unmanageable. We are dealing every day with brokenness of one kind or another. Some days, we feel like there is nothing to hold us up or give us hope.
I have been talking to a lot of people the past few months who are losing their life savings in the stock market. Those of us who are nearing retirement age are going to have to work several more years. Some, who are already retired are looking for ways to deal with less income. I see the pain and grief on their faces. I hear the regret and dismay in their voices.
This happens any time that we place all of our trust and hope in the things of this world. When we depend on the wrong things and base our futures on finances instead of faith, we find our lives shredded without a clue how it happened.
The problem is that we have confused net worth with self worth. The good news is that Christ died for a broken, confused, doubting world. He offers all people the chance to have their lives put back together, and he offers us the same thing. His words of peace may not replenish our bank accounts or restore the value of our stocks, but if his words can bring wholeness into our lives, isn’t that what really counts?
Too often, when the winds begin to howl around us, we run and hide. We lock our doors so that no one can get in with us. Maybe if we don’t turn on any lights or make any sound. Maybe if we sit quietly in the dark, everything will go away. We know that if we let Jesus into our lives, they will be different, and we’re afraid of how our lives might change. We’d rather put up with the storms, with which we’re familiar than peace, which is unknown.
I became a pastor in 1974. I took 10 years out of ministry (‘92-‘02), so July 1st will be my 34th year in ministry. I remember the things that we did in the church back then. We’d take something that worked in the 50’s and 60’s and give it a new name with a fresh coat of paint, and it would work again. The problem is that those strategies aren’t working any more. People aren’t coming to understand who Jesus is because they aren’t seeing Jesus in us. We still want our way, regardless of who might be hurt. They see us squabble over so many trivial things and figure that they don’t have time for such silliness. They are waiting for us to show them the real difference that Jesus has made in our lives.
The reality is that people don’t want us to inform them or tell them, or read to them. They want us to show them. May this day be a time when we are honest about the fact that we don’t have all the answers even though we sometimes pretend that we do. My hope is that all people will find the power of the risen Christ. Ministry happens in so many ways. It isn’t just the building, or choir, or bells or different programs. People seek Christ in their lives when they see what difference Jesus has made in ours and the ways that we are using the gifts that God has given us for the good of the entire world.
Sermon 4-1-18 Easter
I love music, and have something playing around me most of the time. I have noticed over the years that there are songs about Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Saturday and Sundays are seen as a fun days with songs like Saturday Night’s Alright by Elton John and Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon by Queen. Poor Monday has songs like Rainy Days and Mondays by the Carpenters, Stormy Monday by T-bone Walker and Manic Monday by the Bangles. I don’t know about you but I believe that these song writers have captured the essence of what these days are normally like. For many of us, our relaxation and fun happens between Friday night and Monday morning. Aren’t most weekend days the days we relax and have fun, and aren’t most Mondays rougher than the other weekdays?
As we look at Holy week that started last Sunday, we see this past Friday that we call: “Good
Friday” as a day of loss, yesterday as a day of emptiness and today as a day of joyous celebration.
If you listen to the songs we normally sing during this week, you can see those themes.
Tony Campolo, Christian writer and speaker, once said, “It may be Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”
We may be experiencing some tough days, but things are going to get better. Hang in there, it’s
going to get better.
Mary of Magdalene came to the tomb of Jesus with spices to place around his body. She had not
seen Jesus since Friday night when he was taken down from the cross. She knew that Nicodemus
and Joseph of Arimathea had put his body in a tomb. That’s all that she knew. This was Sunday
morning, the day after their Sabbath and the beginning of another work week. In their minds Jesus had lost. All that he spoke of was gone. She had lost more than a friend. She had lost the only person who ever helped her. Remember, she had seven demons in her, until she met Jesus and he made her whole. Everyone else kept their distance from Crazy Mary, but not Jesus. He befriended her. In him, Mary found a friend and a future. But she believed that Jesus was in a tomb. Her mind and her life were stuck on all that had been lost, with no way to make it right.
There are some Fridays that are so full of sorrow, where despair is so deep and the canyon walls of hopeless are so steep that we don’t even imagine a way out.
Have you ever felt like you had bet the farm on the wrong team, that you hooked your wagon to the wrong star, or placed your eggs in the wrong basket? Just when you think that you have found someone that can help you out of the mess that you are in, they either let you down, or in this case, they die.
You may be going through one of those seasons of darkness and dread. After about the 15th one,
we start to wonder if God has given up on us. The truth is that God continues to send miracles and
messengers every day of our lives, we just don’t recognize them.
She did not know about the resurrection and she hurt like never before. Well, Mary, it may be Friday, but Sunday’s coming. We’re about to have a party! The message that we have for our world contains the good news that it may be “Friday” or “Monday”, or whatever you want to call it. We may be tired and frustrated and see no way of making things right, but joy is coming, like the sunshine after the rain.
I know that millions, if not billions of people are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus today, but for me, the resurrection is extremely personal. I’m happy to share this day with others, but it’s still a very personal time as I celebrate how Jesus died for me that day on the cross.
Now, we all know that the resurrection of Jesus is a must-have for the gospel. Without it, the good news of God’s love and power crumbles as just another hyped-up tale of someone who claimed to be God. In the letter that Paul, one of the early church leaders, wrote to the church in Corinth, Greece (1Cor 15:17, he said, “If Christ is not resurrected, then your faith is worthless and you and I are still dead in our sins”, or as the Biblical translator Eugene Peterson wrote in the Message, “If corpses can’t be raised, then Christ wasn’t, because he was indeed dead. And if Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever.
The disciples were ashamed, afraid and absent. Mere hours earlier, they had pledged to never leave Jesus—even to die with him, but, except for John, they were nowhere near the cross when the sun began to set.
Jerusalem was all abuzz with the events of the last three days and how the one whom they had trusted to redeem Israel had been crucified, as had many before him, and they were disappointed. The resurrection of Jesus means that that while we will all die, it won’t be the end, because we too will be resurrected.
It’s important that we pay attention to the events surrounding Jesus’ appearances after he rose,
because it’s in those conversations we find healing salve for the wounds of our sins and miracles to
inspire us to be witnesses for him for the rest of our lives as we take one small step of obedience at a
As I think about Jesus on the cross, I think of all that he taught; that forgiveness is unconditional,
that when others hurt, betray, or falsely accuse us, our response does not have to be retaliate or
punitive. As I have quoted Dr. Martin Luther King King Jr., “Hate cannot defeat hate, only love can
I want you to think of a time that you stood at a fork in the road and had to decide which way to go and what to do. It was a moment of truth where you had to stand up and be counted. It may have been a do or die moment when the rubber met the road. It was crunch time. No halfway response, no half way profession of faith.
Maybe it was a time when you had to ask yourself what you really believed, when someone told a joke that demeaned someone because of their race, their gender, or their disability. What about the time that we had when we could have taken something that wasn’t ours or told something that wasn’t really true? The time we could have cheated and no one might have found out, or we could have added untrue information to a story that we heard.
For some of us, it will be a slight flight correction, a change in our course, for others, it might be a 180 degree turn, a new start, a “do over”. Once we have made this change and see how much better our lives are, don’t we want to tell everyone that we know and help them make this journey?
Remember the movie City Slickers with Billy Crystal? They were on a cattle drive trying to find the answer to life. Remember the old foreman who said it was “one thing” that would help people move from despair and confusion to hope and peace and joy?
Friends, we have found the “one thing”. It is the resurrection of Jesus, the messiah from God who showed the power he had over death and proclaimed the life that we will have after this world. We call it good news, the truth of God's love for us today and tomorrow and for all eternity as we give what we cannot keep in order to gain what we cannot lose. Amen.
Sermon 4-1-18 Sunrise Matt 28:1-10 & 16-20
“Known in the Breaking” Rediscovering Passion
After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to several hundred people over a period of a couple of days. On the road to Emmaus he was walking along recognized by those with him. They reported “our hearts were burning within us while he talked to us”. When was the last time you felt that kind of excitement about something? What was it that caused it? Where were you? Has your heart ever burned with insight into God’s love and plan for you?
I think that it’s kind of like marriage. I talk to some people who are so overwhelmed with excitement, while others can hardly stay awake. I want to think with you this morning about how we find that energy and passion in our lives and our faith.
Let’s start this conversation by thinking about Jesus’ final words to his disciples. While everything that he said was important, I want to start there. I have noticed that many times, this is when conversations often contain the most vital information. I watch sometimes to the last 3 minutes…Oh, by the way I have cancer, leaving my husband. The conversation is almost over and someone says, “I have something that I need to tell you, and I’d better share it while I have the time.” Isn’t that how it is the movies? Someone is dying, or hanging out a train window and everyone leans in to hear their final, important words.
Jesus’ final, important words were some instructions that we call the Great Commission. What does it require of those who follow him? “Go”, he said, “and make disciples of all people & baptize them ‘in the name’ of God who you have experienced as father, son, and Holy Spirit. And I will be with you.” Jesus is specific that our disciple making and baptizing should be done in the nature of Jesus. Have you ever done anything in which you were representing someone else? Maybe you were a secretary or receptionist. How you answered the telephone represented your boss and your company. Maybe you made a phone call for your boss or wrote a letter for them. What you said or wrote represented them. It’s sort of like having power of attorney. You represent, act, and do things the way someone else wants you to; like they would do it.
A couple of years ago, I heard a woman singing some Patsy Cline hits. She dressed like Patsy, even her mannerisms were those of Patsy. I closed my eyes, and forgot that I was at the Beef House Restaurant Danville, and I could hear Patsy. This woman was singing in the nature of someone else.
To pray or live or think “in the name of Jesus” is to be so much like Jesus that people think that’s who we are. They see Jesus in our actions and words. What are the ways we can obey this command and live in the nature of Jesus? I think that it happens when we set aside our selfish, greedy, lustful nature. It happens as we rid ourselves of our anger, pride and envy, and when we give our laziness and harmful activities to Jesus, never more to make them part of our lives.
What Jesus did, both for the disciples headed for Emmaus and for the others was to tell them a story. He reminded them that everything that had happened was a plan so they could understand the purpose for which he had died and was then raised.
Jesus helped them see the big picture. He helped them to understand that Israel had never kept the religious law very well, even on their best days, and when they didn’t, they had this makeshift, stopgap mechanism which they believed would cleanse people of their sins which is anything that we do that separates us from God’s plan and purpose for us. They would decide which amount of grain or what animal needed to be brought to the temple and burned on the altar. Once a year they would have a goat that the priest would lay their hands on and supposedly move the sins of the people into the goat which they would take out into the desert to die. They called it a scapegoat.
The problem was that these ways that they tried to cleanse people and make them right with God didn’t work. They would be repeated over and over, but they never quite did the job. What our world needed was a once-for-all, permanent solution which was the death of Jesus. This act of love wouldn’t just address the problem of sins over the last week or year, but would provide forgiveness that covered all the sins you had ever committed, as well as the sins that you would commit in the future, connecting the believer to God for all time.
What Jesus’ death on the cross gave believers is that one thing that meets the real, deep needs in our lives. It gives us a burning, passion, sort of like the eye of the tiger in the old Rocky movies.
When I served the Loda Congregation, I used a lot of video clips during the service on a 80” TV monitor. One showed a football player doing a drill. Normally they crawled across the ground with another player on their back for 10-20 yards. This time, one player’s eyes were covered and he was encouraged to keep going just a little bit further. When he was told to stop and take off the blindfold, he had covered the entire 100 yard football field. The coach had encouraged him to give all that he had and tap into the power and passion deep within him.
A lot of people out there are searching for that one thing that will fill their emptiness and bring meaning and purpose to their lives. If we want to find passion and excitement in our relationship with God through Jesus it will be because we spend more time learning about and looking for ways that we can be like Him. If you want to care more about something, the more time you spend with that thing or person, the more you get to know and understand and see how your life and theirs intertwines and connects. The more you recognize the gifts that God has given you and discover God’s plan and purpose for you and then give yourself to that design and intent, the more you will find peace and joy and hope in life as you share with others how your life has real meaning.
All that we really can tell people is what we have experienced, what you think it means to your life, and what you believe about the world and yourself, based on your experiences.
Our mission field for sharing our experiences and the good news that we have found is right next door. People are yearning for spiritual things. They may be at a different place in their journey than we are (notice that I did not say it was not as good). But how can we walk alongside them and accept them as they are, and encourage them in their search, their growth and their service as we move from despair and find hope and peace and joy and passion for life and the things God has planned for us?