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June 12, 2016


1 Kings 21: 1-21

Sermon Topic: Not for Sale

Scripture: 1 Kings 21: 1-21

 

There is a story about the President of Anheiser-Busch who went over to the Vatican for a private audience with the Pope. The meeting went something like this: 
“Holy Father, we are prepared to make a donation of $10 million to the church if you would simply replace ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ with 
’Give us this day our daily beer.’” 
“I’m afraid, that’s not possible, my son.” 
“Could you do it for a bigger contribution, say $25 million dollars?” 
“I’m afraid that’s not possible, my son, said the Pope” 
“Holy Father, here is my final offer. Change “bread” to “beer:” and I will write you a check right now for $100 million dollars.” 
The Pope picks up the phone and says: “Cardinal Mancini, how firm is our contract with the Pillsbury Bread company?” 

You can tell that the season of summer is here, higher temperatures, children at play, and by the signs of garage sales popping up all over the place.

Well, picture this. There you are, keeping one eye on your stuff while, answering their questions, haggling over a dollar or two here and there, when all of a sudden someone approaches. He has nothing in his hand, but he has an interesting or curious look on his face. Then he asks you “How much do you want for that rocking chair over there?” 
“Which one?” “The wooden rocking chair; right over there behind you.” You smile. “I’m afraid that’s NOT FOR SALE.” “It’s not? Why is it sitting out here then?” 
You’re think to yourself. “I don’t have to tell you why.” But instead you say: “It’s a family heirloom. It belonged to my great grandfather.” 

The man continues; “Are you sure, lady? I’d be willing to pay good money for it.” 
You are stunned for a moment. You had never really thought about selling it. It was something that had always been in our family You’d never thought that anyone else would ever be interested in your great grandfather’s rocking chair. You’d never really thought that it would be worth "good” money. 
You’re not really interested in selling, but you’re curious as to what it would fetch. So you say: “What do you mean by ‘good’ money?” “Two hundred dollars.” 
You feel like saying: “Two hundred dollars? Hold on a second, mister. Let me think about this.” But before you say another word, he says: “Okay, I’ll up it to three hundred.” Now you decide to play along. You change the tone of your voice as you repeat: “Three hundred, I don’t know? “Alright, lady” he says. “Let me level with you....I’m looking for a rocking chair to complete a set that I have in my living room. That’s why I’m willing to pay you more than what any antique dealer will give you. Four hundred dollars. And that’s my final offer.” You are wising up now. “Ever heard of e-bay, mister?” He realizes that you’re no pushover. He opens up his wallet, pulls out five crisp one hundred dollar bills and waves them in front of you: “Here...this is my final, final offer 5 hundred dollars.” For a moment, you consider how the five hundred dollars would help you pay for a vacation, or you could buy yourself something nice or simply safe the money for a rainy day. But, then something reminds you that as handy as the money may be, this is a very special gift that has been passed down through the generations. It was given to you by your mother. It was meant to stay in the family. So, you muster up all the strength you’ve got, look him straight in the eye and say: “That is very tempting, sir, but this stays in our family. I am sorry to inform you that this rocker is NOT FOR SALE.” He walks away in disbelief, shaking his head, mumbling under his breath that you were crazy, if not stupid to turn down such a lucrative offer. 

In our scripture today King Ahab, the King of Israel, and Husband of Jezebel was out for a walk one day, when he spotted something he liked. It was a vineyard that belonged to Naboth his neighbor to the north. Now, Ahab had seen that vineyard many times before. It always struck him as a nice vineyard. Good, productive tract of land. 
But, when he passed it this time, he saw something more. He could see the vineyard of Naboth, the neighbor to the north, fitting quite nicely into palace property as a vegetable garden. Ahab, being the king, could’ve simply annexed his neighbor’s property by royal decree. Like the government deciding to build a new highway right 
smack in the middle of farm. Sure, Ahab had that power. But he chose not to use it. Instead, he goes to Naboth’s house and rings the doorbell. Naboth comes out promptly and Ahab cuts to the chase: 
“How much do you want for your vineyard?” 
“How much do I want for my vineyard?” 
“That’s correct. Name your price. I’ll pay.” 
“With all due respect, King Ahab, I don’t see a ‘For Sale’ sign anywhere.” 
“Guess what, Naboth, it just went up for sale.” 
“Naboth replies, guess what, King, I just took the for sale sign down it down. Goodbye.” 
Ahab would not be denied that easily. “Hey, Naboth, I know this is a very fertile piece of land and you’re reluctant to part with it. I understand. Let me make a deal. I have this vineyard 2 miles south and 1 mile east of here that I bet is even more productive than yours. I know for sure it’s at least bigger than yours. I’ll trade you; my vineyard for yours. Naboth says “With all due respect, King Ahab, this is not just my vineyard. It is my family vineyard. This is part of my inheritance. You know how God wants us to value our family inheritance, especially land. It was a gift from God to MY ancestors and it will stay that way. My great grandfather passed it on to my grandfather, my father passed it on to me and I want to pass it on to my sons. So, you can offer me all the gold in Judea, but, this vineyard is NOT FOR SALE. 

Ahab knew that when Naboth brought God into the equation, he had lost the negotiation. He became mad and threw a royal temper tantrum, proving once again that deep down; grown men are still little boys! He even refused to eat. Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, didn’t like her husband’s little hunger strike. So she said to Ahab, "You’re supposed to be the King of Israel. So, stop pouting like a little boy. I’ll get you that vineyard." So Jezebel took some of the royal stationery and wrote a letter to the leaders in Naboth’s city and signed Ahab’s name to the letter. The letter said, "Naboth is a trouble maker. I want you to hire some men who are expert liars and can be bought for a reasonable price. Have them accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king." Out of fear of Jezebel the leaders of the city did just that. And Naboth and his sons were stoned to death. Well no one owned that vineyard now, so Ahab took it. 

There was a movie a few years back titled Bedazzled. Where a computer nerd strikes a deal with the devil in which he is given seven wishes in exchange for his soul. He agrees to the deal because he is trying, in vain, to win the heart of one of his co-workers. Theme of this movie is: is your soul is for sale?


The fact of the matter is that there are times in life when we are offered a price for something that we had not intended to sell. So, how do we respond to such tempting offers? 

Consider this:  you might be unemployed or retired, and out of nowhere you are offered an opportunity for a job that would bring in a lot of money. But the job requires you to compromise your integrity–not in any flagrant violation of the law, but in subtle ways that would not meet with God’s approval. Do you accept this lucrative offer or do you say: “I’m not for sale?” 

Or, you are being considered for a promotion within your current company. Yes, it will mean an additional $20,000 a year. But the price you pay will be time away from your family--at least two weeks every month. Do you accept this offer or do you politely decline because the time you spend with your family is not for sale? 

When we are tempted to compromise the uniqueness of our faith for the sake of appeasing those of differing ideas about Christianity; do we just give in or do we stand up and boldly declare that our belief system is not for sale? When a community of faith faces a crisis that could easily be solved by adopting the standards of this world, do we go for the instant gratification or do we declare that our understanding of the Gospel is not for sale? 

Every day in this world, the Ahab’s and the Jezebels abuse their power to falsely accuse the Naboths and get rid of them, so they can take what they want- be it a parcel of land, or someone’s home in the name of progress. Every day, the Ahabs of this world do get their way–by legislation and by illegitimate means, and by use of force. But, as the story unfolds we learn that Ahab and Jezebel met with tragic fates as a result of what they had done.

In the end, God prevails. God’s ways are again and again proven to be right. And that is why you and I can stand up to the powers of our day and say: “What you want from me, my integrity, by blind allegiance, my hope, and my sense of right and wrong is not for sale.

February 14, 2016

 

Lent Sermon week 1

 

Luke 4:1-13

 

A man and his wife were shopping at a mall when a young, very attractive woman in a short, form-fitting dress strolled by. The man’s eyes followed her. Without looking up from the item she was examining, his wife asked, "Was it worth the trouble you’re in?"

 

Temptation is all around us. You and I are constantly being tempted to buy something new, to not go to school or to work, to eat the foods the doctors told you to stop eating, to watch something on the internet you know you are not supposed to watch. Or we can be tempted to say something mean or hurtful to someone we don’t like.


The story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert gives us an idea of what real temptation is and what is keeping us from God. Jesus was tempted in every possible way. And the very things Jesus was tempted with were put there in an effort to separate Jesus from God. If Jesus had given in to such temptations, Jesus would have kept himself from being in the relationship with God that they both wanted. 

You see, Jesus was being tugged in two opposite directions. God was telling Jesus, “Take my love and compassion to all the men and women.

 

Satan was saying to Jesus, use your power to obliterate your enemies, and rule the world by might and power and bloodshed.” God said to Jesus, instill a reign of love among the nations of the world. Satan said, “Set up a dictatorship of force.”

 

Jesus’ first temptation was to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. Let’s think for a moment about all the loaves of bread we’ve let slip into our lives. The obvious parallel is food and drink for nourishment. But there are also those loaves that nourish us like TV, internet, or video games. And we spend our time mindlessly overindulging in our vices as our relationship with Christ slips through the cracks.

 

Then there is that temptation for power and prestige. Jesus was offered glory and authority over all the kingdoms of the world. But Jesus already had all the power he needed and he was not interested in prestige. God sent Jesus to fix the earth; not to complement us on how we are running things. If God liked the oppression, the greed, the racism, the wars, the slavery; if God was really so impressed with the way the Romans and the Jewish elite had rigged the economy where 10% of the population owned 90% of the wealth, and if God was so impressed with way us humans were running things, then God would not have needed to send Jesus to save us from the world we had created. 

 

Next, Jesus is tempted to test God. We, too, are pushed to test God in various ways. We selfishly seek things from God that are unreasonable or not even always possible. And when God does not supply us with what we want we become angry with God.  We soon forget that what we want is not always consistent with what God wants.

The temptations that you and I face day by day may be very different from those of Jesus, but they have exactly the same point. Temptations are not simply trying to entice us into doing something we know we are not supposed to do. They are trying to distract us by keeping us away from the teachings of Christ. God has great plans for us all, and the enemy will do everything possible to distract us, and keep us from God’s purpose for our lives.

 

I believe it’s important for us to learn to recognize the voices that whisper attractive lies in our ears, and to be able to distinguish them from the voice of God! Fighting temptation isn’t about putting ourselves down or beating ourselves up in the face of weakness; it is about celebrating God’s gift of full humanity and learning to live into that gift the best way possible.

So, this morning I would like for us to look at what temptation is not. Then we will discuss what temptation is. Because when we know what temptation really is, we will be better prepared to face it.

 


First, temptation is not sin. Too many people go through life feeling guilty because they are tempted. Let me repeat that Temptation is not sin. Some people believe if you are tempted to sin, you have already sinned. And no, that’s not true.


Hebrews 4:15 tells us, for we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 

 

So, does temptation ever come from God? 

 

Let’s look at James 1:13, “when tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; however, temptation does test our trust in God.”

 

Would the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into sin? Yes, Jesus was tempted to sin, but he did not. Temptation is not sin. 

 

The Apostle James explains it in James 1:14-15,  but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. So temptation is not sin.

 

When we are going through a trial or when we are suffering, we often use that as an excuse for giving into the temptation. Sometimes we use the hard time we are going through to justify a “day off” from life. Remember temptation to sin is not sin. And temptation is unavoidable. If that is true, and it is, then what is temptation?


Well in order for temptation to be real, the temptation must be meaningful. We actually have to be temptable. And if we’re temptable it’s because the choice before us is a meaningful, real choice. And that means that we have free will.

 

 

If we didn’t, then our tests would be meaningless as well. If we could not choose to do well, then tempting us with evil is just as meaningless as the idea that Jesus could be tempted to do anything other than good. Just like Jesus we are tempted because, in our humanity we have free will, we are free to choose, and we are free to walk down the path of righteousness or the path of wickedness.


But, also I believe temptation can also make us stronger. I know you're thinking really? How can it make us stronger?

 

As you resist the temptation you get stronger in your faith in God Hebrews 2:18 says, because Jesus himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. 


If Jesus being tempted made him able to understand our temptations, does it not make sense that when we resist temptation we too will be able to help others with the same temptation?

Can you imagine a church where every member was committed to not letting temptation cause them to sin, but to make them stronger in their faith. And when we do fall, and we all will, this community will gather around us, lovingly us, and nurturing us. No one would ever need to face temptation alone again. Instead, Christians would gather around us, not judging, and not condemning. Each person would feel so much love and acceptance that they would open their hearts and lives to each other.

 

Lent is another opportunity for deepening our relationship with God. My prayer is that all of us will be able to receive the gift that God is offering to us during these special days. So, what is this special gift? What gift does God have for you and I? That gift is the gift of Christ. The gift of Christ is here to free us from the temptation of this world. And by freeing us from temptation we will be able to assist Christ in bringing about the Kingdom of God that he so often preaches about.

 

And we get this gift by being open to receiving it, by wanting it with all our hearts, and by asking for it over and over again from the loving God who grants us this divine gift.
Now, I need to be clear about one thing. Lent is not a second chance to see if we can keep our New Year’s resolution. Lent is not really about giving up this or that, no matter how hard this or that may be. Giving up dessert or your favorite television show is not at the heart of this season. If television is mainly just a distraction that is keeping you from spending time with your friends or loved ones, then give it up.

 


Many of us need to do one very important thing in order to ready ourselves to receive God’s gift. We need to let go of whatever is threatening to take over our lives. This is going to be different for each of us. Some of us are still trying to fill that hole in our chests with too many things, too much food and drink, too much entertainment, too much work, too much alcohol and drugs, or too much shopping, and too much temptation.

 

Above all, Lent is a time of renewal. This is the time of year that we ask God to help us with the important task of inner renewal. Lent is the promise of a new start for all of us, not a time of discouragement or sorrow. Rather, it is a time when we rejoice that God is a God of refreshment, of new life, of new beginnings. And these promises are not empty ones, but are full of the power that comes from the Christ who comes back to life in resurrection.

 

Throughout this Lenten season, we will be looking at the things that are temptations for us and the gospel that helps us to overcome them. But as we do, please bear in mind that the very fact that we can be tempted means that we have been freed to do so by a loving God who desires our freedom in order that we might truly be in relationship with God.

 

Now, that does not mean that there won’t be consequences for our choices. Our freedom to choose means that when we choose incorrectly, we have to take responsibility for that choice.

But none of that changes the fact that in all our choices, we are loved. We are loved by the one who loved us so much that we are set free to choose or reject Christ, with all the temptations, all the consequences, and all the blessings that brings.


And today we praise God for the gift of Christ. Because Christ is the one who walks beside us in our times of temptation and struggle, Christ is the one who walks beside us when we find ourselves in our own wilderness, and he is the one that is at our side during our testing and our succeeding in life because he is the source of our power.

 

Christ gives us the power we need to say no to the temptation of violence, no to the temptation of greed, no to the temptation of judgement, and no to the temptation of excluding someone in need because they don’t look like us, or they don’t dress like us, or they don’t live in the same country as we do, or God forbid they don’t worship like us. Amen



February 7, 2016

 

Sermon: Remove the Veil

 

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

 


Today we are going to be talking about a veiled face. The purpose of a veil is to protect, or cover your face. Some people don’t want you to see what they look like so they wear a veil; whether that veil is a physical veil or a metaphor.
I think there are times in our lives that we can all be people who veil our faces. We put on a good face. We want people to think we have it all together. When we are sad we hide the hurt or the pain because we do not want to show weakness.

 

Or, we want to be liked. So we pretend to enjoy doing what others do just to fit in.

 

We seem to worry about being open and unveiled.

 


Facebook can be an easy place to put on a good face. It’s an easy place to wear a veil because it is disconnected from us. We only put out there on Facebook what we want others to see. We can choose what face we will be put on Facebook. Is this the face that my friends want to see? Is this the face that makes me popular? Or, is this the face that represents Christ?  We could decide to unveil our faces. We could be real with one another, but more importantly we could be real and transform our face into the likeness of Christ.

 

We are always aware of the face others will see, and we can decide if this face will be a face that reflects God’s love and grace instead of a face that complains, or mocks people, or is selfish or greedy. We all put on those faces from time to time, but God wants us to be the face of Christ.

 

The Corinthian church must have been a difficult church to deal with.
I suppose it would be fair to say that the church in Corinth knew how followers of Christ were supposed to act. 

Paul had given the people of Corinth good instruction on how to live as Christians when God used him to form the church. We can probably assume that whoever Paul left in charge continued to give good instruction. Paul had even gone so far as to write them letters of instruction, in order to clarify God’s mission. But, there was a veil over their heart that was keeping them from responding to God.

The 2nd letter to the Corinthian’s was written to reprimand the church for not following the example, and directive of Jesus Christ. In our scripture reading today, Paul is explaining that the new covenant of the grace of Jesus Christ provides freedom, liberty, and life, in opposition to the old covenant of the Law of Moses, which over time had created such a strict adherence to the rules, that people were forgetting to live.

In writing this letter to the people of Corinth Paul is referring to 
Exodus 34, verses 29 to 35.Exodus tells of how Moses went before God in order to receive God’s commands for his followers.Moses went up on the mountain to speak with God. When he returned, initially he did not know that his face shined with radiance from his encounter with God.


The people looked on in amazement to the point where they couldn’t even pay attention to what Moses was saying. In fact 
Exodus 34, verse 30 states, “So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Also, Exodus tell us that Moses would remove the veil; meet with God, and receive God’s word. He would then return to the people with the veil removed and deliver the word of God, and when finished, he would place the veil back over his face until his next encounter with God.


As far as Israel knew, Moses was consistently radiating the glory of God.
But, Paul states that the reason Moses veiled his face was; because over a period of time, that radiance would begin to fade.

For Paul, this fading of the radiance of God from Moses’ face testified to the eventual passing of the usefulness of the law and legalism as an attempt to be right before God.
But the radiance of the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit far surpasses the law, because the power of the Holy Spirit will never fade away.

For us Christians there can be a veil over our own hearts that keeps us from turning to God in all areas of our lives. We know what God says; we know what God wants, but sometimes we allow a veil to keep us from obedience. So, we must turn to Christ, and allow Him to lift the veil. And verses 16-18 tells us just that:

The scripture reads:  but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 

In these verses, Paul is talking about allowing God to work in our lives; allowing God’s will to be done in all areas of our lives, not the just the parts that are convenient. Those non convenient areas are the areas of sin where we resist change. Those things that we know we need to change, but they seem beyond our ability to change. And, by using only our power to incite change, some things will remain unchangeable. We need God’s wisdom and intervention, in order to change, and in order to remove those veils that we so desperately cling to.

 

Paul says, “When we turn to the Lord God; the Lord, will remove the veil and give us understanding. Some of you may be thinking, “I have done that, I’ve turned to the Lord.       I am a believer in Christ. The phrase to “turn to” means more than simply having faith that Christ is Lord. The phrase “turn to” means “reverse your course” or, “change of direction.” You could also say “turn to” means “to rely upon full.” And yet another popular phrase you may be familiar with is to repent.

What situation or circumstance in your life must change, we all have some. However, it’s so much easier to look at someone else and see the change they need to make. If my husband or wife would only change, If my boss would only change,, if my children, my friends, my pastor. Why can’t they just be more like me?

 Why, because you are the one that needs to fully trust in the Lord. And you are the one that needs to remove the veil and change. And remember you don’t need to do this alone. Verse, 3:16 says “whenever we turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

 

Whenever we turn to the Lord, the Spirit will give us understanding. And whenever we turn to the Lord, little by little; we will be transformed into the image of God.


As Christians we are reminded that we see the face of God in the face of Christ. When we look at the life of Jesus Christ we see how God lived as a human. Jesus was our example of what our life should look like to reflect God’s presence in our life, and in our world. Whenever we wonder what God would want us to do in a given situation we should look at the face of Christ. And by living the life of Christ all those veils of hatred, exclusion, bigotry and judgment will simply fall away. Amen




January 31, 2016


Does God Really Speak to Us?

 

Jeremiah 1:4-10

 

 

From time to time many of you may hear voices in your head. Voices’ telling you it’s OK to take

another nap, telling you who to marry or to date. Voices telling you what to eat or that it’s OK to eat an

entire apple pie in one day. Guilty…


I hate to break the news to you but this is not someone or something else speaking to you, this is simply you having a conversation with yourself. And for the most part these conversations are helpful and harmless.

 

So, how we know that the voice we are listening to is ourselves, or God?

 

Discerning the right voice was an issue long before we had smartphones. The Bible is full of stories where people, including kids, heard a voice, and had to decide whether to respond.

 

Abram was living in Haran when he heard a voice telling him to, "Go from your country and your father's house to the land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1). Moses was tending sheep in the middle of nowhere when he heard a voice coming from a burning bush. Samuel was a little boy sleeping on a cot in the temple when he heard a voice calling his name. And Isaiah was in the temple when he heard the Lord say, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"

 

And then there's this week's text, where a boy named Jeremiah hears a voice and decides to get interactive with it. The voice, of course, is the voice of God. But we have to wonder how each of these biblical heroes heard this voice and, then, what made them respond.

 

A 21st-century kid might have an increasingly tough time differentiating between a real voice and a computer-generated one, but Jeremiah knew right away that the voice he was hearing was the Lord's. How did he know, and how do we know, when we're hearing the voice of God? Jeremiah's story offers some clues.

 

For starters, God's voice can be heard in the context of a community of faith. The book of Jeremiah tells us that he was the son of a priest from a town just north of Jerusalem that was one of the cities assigned to the priestly class of Levites. Growing up within a priestly community, Jeremiah would have known the stories about Abraham, Moses, Samuel. Jeremiah would have been schooled in regular prayer, and would have witnessed the people of his village poring over sacred texts to determine God's will for their lives.

 

The voice of God thus came to Jeremiah, not out of the blue, but in the context of a community devoted to God; a community where people discerned God's voice together.

 

In a world where technology tends to isolate people, and where a kid can have hours of conversations with a phone instead of with friends or family, we need to remember that we're wired to hear God's voice best within community. And a regular connection to Christian community is a key to making sure that the voice we're hearing is actually God's, and not simply an advertisement for our own desires.

 

Also: God's voice is best heard in conversation with God. We don't know exactly how God's call "came" to Jeremiah. Perhaps it was a dream. Perhaps it was an inner voice or maybe it was during a time of prayer. But, like Moses and Samuel before him, Jeremiah decides to test the voice by entering into conversation with it, even pushing back against it.


God told Jeremiah that Jeremiah had been appointed to a prophetic mission before he was even born (v. 5). Having been schooled in the story of Moses, Jeremiah raises a conversational objection. "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy!"

 

God knows Jeremiah, but Jeremiah also knows himself and what being "a prophet to the nations" will entail. By pushing back in conversation, Jeremiah can sort out whether his call is something coming from within himself, which could be easily dismissed, or whether this call was coming from God.

 

I found an interesting pattern in the Bible -- those who are the most powerfully used by God are those who take the time to test God's call with a conversation. In fact, conversation is one of the keys to a lasting relationship that's not built on an algorithm. Jeremiah's response to God, "Ah, Lord God" is language that today we might say Oh God really, me? This language usually preceded a prayer in the form of lament or complaint. The Bible reveals a lot of these kinds of conversational prayers; the Psalms are full of them, as are the stories of biblical heroes including Jesus who has his own pushback conversation with God in Geth-sem-an-e.

 

It seems like God invites this kind of conversation, even if God will always have the last word! We sometimes forget that prayer is a two-way street and that God doesn't just give us a series of commands. Plenty of people have claimed to have been ordered by God to do something, but failed to enter into a conversation with God to determine whose voice they were actually hearing (a list of horrible religious cult leaders comes to mind).

 

God allows us to bring those fears and feelings to the table when we converse with the divine. Yes, God wants our obedience, but it seems that God desires that obedience to emerge out of a deep relationship rather than out of mere obligation.

 

And finally: God will always supply the resources we need. When we have a deep relationship with God, our conversations lead us to a radical honesty about our shortcomings in comparison to God's glory. Jeremiah recognized that he had a shortfall in experience and ability to speak, but these were not barriers to God. In fact, it seems that God usually doesn't call the qualified, but, rather, qualifies the called.

 

Some of the most powerful words in the Bible are the repeated promise of God: "I am with you".

We have an assurance that the God who calls us will continue to be in conversation with us, and will

continue to lead us. Those conversations are the ones that we need to record and review often as we

follow God wherever God leads.

 

So, for us today, how do we know when God is talking to us? I believe God shows up not as an audible voice but as a feeling.  This feeling can be that uneasy feeling, when I am finishing that last bite of pie that tells me, you shouldn’t have done that.

 

Or when we are at a cross roads in life and we make a decision and that decisions results in a sense of ease and comfort.

 

When we are listening to God, life seems to slow down, we are less stressed, we are no longer frustrated or angry, it’s like we have stopped fighting life.

 

God’s plan for us is to not be in constant struggle with life.

 

Life is not meant to be a battle within ourselves.

 

Can life be difficult? Of course it can.  Nobody is telling you life is easy. But, we can make life easier on ourselves when we stop fighting what we want, and give God a try.

 

Once we are following God, we will still experience problems and setbacks, but we will intuitively know how to handle them. We will face life with less worry, and our stress levels will be at a minimum.

 

So, how do we know we are listening to God?

 

First of all, turn off the outside noise and interference.

 

Turn off the perpetual negative loop in your head that uses words like can’t, no way, and never.

 

Take some time, and sit quietly with your creator, and the voice of God will fill your heart, your mind, and your soul with intuition.

 

And then you will experience that sense of ease and comfort that is the love, and the voice of God. 




January 17, 2016

 

Luke 4:14-21

“Practice What We Preach”

A young preacher—fresh out of seminary—who had become convicted of some injustice, and decided to take it upon himself to do what he felt God was calling him to do.

He went around knocking on doors, trying to engage the people about whatever atrocity he was trying to get persons to rally around.

One day, he knocked on a certain lady’s door, and she was impressed! When this certain lady mentioned this to her Senior Pastor, he simply said, “He’s young; he’ll learn.”

And pretty soon, I guess he did. Before long, he had fallen in line and given up on the radical Christianity Christ was calling him too. Being on a mission for Jesus was not easy.
You see Jesus was the most radical revolutionary to ever walk this earth, and the young preacher in our story wanted to be just like him.

The things Jesus said and did…got people mad, really, really mad, and eventually they killed him because he wouldn’t shut up.

And as Disciples of Christ, we too are called to a radical life. We are called, as well, to “preach good news to the poor. To proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And this might sound wonderful on paper, but when it comes to putting Jesus’ words into practice, well, that’s another story all together. But isn’t that what it means to be the Body of Christ living out our faith in this world?


Growing up in the 60-70’s I was told in church how Jesus turned over tables and caused a lot of problems,  how he cursing fig trees, and how he called Pharisees ‘names,’ because they were simply giving scripture lip service and not putting their faith into action. In others words they were not practicing what they preached.


I remember Jesus talking to the ‘Woman’ by the well who’d had many husbands and Jesus commenting, ‘Go and sin no more.’ He didn’t chastise her and tell her she was going to hell. He simply said, go and sin no more.


And I remember the Jesus we have in today’s scripture  Who went to speak in His home town synagogue and said,’ that the ‘Spirit of God is upon me to bring good news to the poor, and proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to letting the oppressed go free’. And then I began thinking about the Jesus I learned about in Church as a kid and the Jesus I see being taught and talked about today.

In contrast to the Jesus I learned about as a child, today we seem to hear of a homogenized, corporate, overly judgmental, pious-ized, racists, Jesus. Is this the Jesus that should be worshipped and adored? But, we never hear of the revolutionary Jesus that questioned society, and that tried to get the people to change their hearts and minds.


So, this sent me on a quest and I started to really dive into the New Testament. I soon found a Jesus that was crucified for blasphemy by those who thought He’d come to dismantle their oppressive society. I saw a Jesus eating with the poor, and preaching and teaching the expendables. I read about people risking their lives, their reputations, and their safe secure lives for their Christian faith because they saw a Jesus that had come to change the world.


I continued to read and concluded that I am seeing in our society a new gospel that is not in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And I must admit I got rather angry, because I’ve gone to church my whole life and I can’t remember a Jesus that tells us that some people are not worthy of love because they have a different skin color, or are of a different religious faith or they vote for a different political party or they live in a different country.


So, Today, I want us to talk about our motivations for being Christians. How do we relate to God and what should our motives be? I want you to consider that some people only think of the Christian faith as a way to be forgiven for their sins. We all need forgiveness, and this is certainly a central part of why Jesus came and what he wants to do for us. But it is only the beginning. 

Like we talked about last week, all of that is good and true, but the problem is that it often stops there. It is only a small part of what life, and the Christian life in particular, is about. And if salvation is the only reason we come to church then I believe we have very condensed Gospel.


What was meant to be a starting point becomes the whole thing. Some people only want to be forgiven without wanting any real relationship with God. They want forgiveness so that they will not have any negative experience in the afterlife, but they do not necessarily want any contact with God, or have God change the way they live. The whole point of forgiveness is that it clears the way for us to have an ongoing relationship with God.
The goal of the Christian life is not just salvation, but transformation. Paul wrote:
(2 Corinthians 3:18). “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”. What God wants is for us to enter into a relationship with him that increasingly transforms us from the inside out. It changes our actions and our reactions. It puts love at the center of our lives. It transforms us into his image. We are conformed into the likeness of Christ. 


Many people want to be a Christian without growth or discipleship. Being a disciple means being a student — a learner. We study God’s Word. We pray. We love. We serve. We don’t merely think about going to heaven, we want to grow in God that we might become like him. We forgive our enemies. When we fail, we repent. We become reconciled with those we have wronged, or to those who may have wronged us. We don’t just spend our money and our time on ourselves, but we give to others in need and serve them. We mirror the life of Christ who said that he, “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. 

But, some Christians keep their lives tightly compartmentalized. They have their Christianity in one compartment where they go to church and go through the motions of the Christian faith, and keep the rest of their lives separated from it. They keep a barrier between their religion and their other life. Some even have secret parts of their lives that no one else is allowed to know about, not even God. They are good at keeping up a good religious front, while keeping God out of some of the most important areas of their lives. 

This transformation makes us God’s agents in a lost and jaded world. God is redeeming the world and all that is in it, and God’s transformation of us is not just for our sakes it is that we might join God in transforming the world — here and now. He is using us to redeem and reconcile the world to himself. Salvation is bigger than we think. It is not just about you personally getting saved and going to heaven, it is about God’s plan to save the world and bring the world to himself. It is about heaven coming down to earth. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Salvation is about what God is doing to redeem the world and save the whole world.


The apostle Paul in
2 Corinthians 5:17-20) has outlined our responsibility until that time comes. Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.


We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. I implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (Because We are not to sit in judgment of the world and condemn it; we are not to be afraid of the world and events taking place within it; we are to be Christ’s ambassadors calling the world to be reconciled to God.


The good news is that you don’t have to be a perfect person to be a part of this. If God waited for perfect people to carry out his will, the kingdom would never come. And I would never have entered the ministry. 
But we take our brokenness and our failures and lay them at the foot of the cross, and move on to be God’s people in the world — finding ways, and doing whatever we can, to be redemptive agents and bring about God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven


I believe people today are tired of listening to the hateful and judgmental Christians that think only they are worthy of God’s love. And I think these people have a passion to change the world!


Jesus said, I came to preach good news to the poor. 
Jesus did not say get a job looser.

Jesus said I have come to provide recovery of sight to the blind. In other words, wake up people. Come back to the Gospels. Stop taking your instructions on how to live from CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. Here’s an idea; turn off cable news and pick up a Bible.


Jesus said I have come to liberate the oppressed. He did not say I have come to burden you with cruel or unjust impositions or restraints. He didn’t say I have come to expel you form my land or exclude you from entering Jerusalem because you are of a different faith.

It’s time to start practicing what we preach.

It’s time to come back to the Gospels. 

It’s time to come back to the way of Christ.

It’s time for us Christians to be the transforming power of Christ on earth.

It’s time for us to tell the people in the media that want to lead you down the path of hatred, and racism no thank you. No thank you because my way is the way of love;

My way is the way of compassion.

And my way is the way of Christ. Amen.

 

 

Sermon: Saved From What?

 

Ephesians 2:4-8

 

I thought a good topic to start our year off with would be Salvation.

 

Salvation is one of the most widely discussed topics in the Christian faith. Some of you may have heard people talking about being born again, or some of you may even know people that can tell you the exact date that they were saved.  You have been to a church or seen a church on TV where they have what are called alter calls. That’s where the preacher asked if anyone would like to come down front to the Alter, and publically profess their faith in Christ, say the sinners prayer, and they the preacher proclaims them saved.

 

So, the question for today is what do I need to be saved from?  

 

It seems there are different kinds of Christians:

 

There are those who think the world needs to be saved from some villainous other like Muslims, or gays. And those who think the world need to be saved from those Christians. And then there are people that think they need to be saved from going to hell after they die. And still there are those that believe they are currently living in hell and they need to be saved from today.

 

For Wesley salvation does not consist of merely “going to heaven” because it is not an after-death experience but “a present thing.  While Wesley calls salvation a “present thing,” he does not mean that “all this salvation is given at once.  Rather, he means it is presently occurring, an ongoing process. Wesley believed that salvation is “the entire work of God from the first dawning of grace in the soul, till it is consummated in glory”.


Before we move on, I need to be clear about something; salvation is not a process in the form of a checklist. Wesley is describing what happens during salvation. Why, because we Methodists aren’t the type of people that simply smile and nod our heads, we what to know the how’s and the why’s of life.


John Wesley understands salvation as the entire redeeming work of God in a human life, “from the first dawning of grace in the soul, till it is consummated in glory Indeed, Wesley includes within his concept of salvation even “all the drawings of the Father”—which he terms “preventing grace”—in the heart of a person as yet uncommitted to God Whether or not it is ultimately embraced, this preventing grace is part of salvation in its broadest sense.

 

Wesley describes faith as a new way of seeing. It is a mode of sight by which people may perceive the previously unseen spiritual world, and become convinced of God and his work. He notes that scripture refers to faith as “light exhibited to the soul, and a supernatural sight or perception thereof. It is both a new faculty of vision, and light for the exercise of that faculty.

I believe John Wesley was a practical theologian. Wesley’s theological practice was to respond to real issues and to focus on how God changes lives. And a very condensed version of Wesley’s definition of salvation is a real change in a person’s holiness of heart and life. For United Methodists salvation means we are in an intimate relationship with God, who works throughout our lives to change our hearts and minds in order to make us whole.

 

In their book “Living as United Methodists Christians” by Andy and Sally Langford, they tells us that our salvation journey begins before are even aware that God is seeking us. This is called prevenient grace. At the moment we understand that our lives are heading in the wrong direction and we say yes to God this is called justification, which means your sins are forgiven and you run back to God. God then redirects us and empowers us to follow Jesus. And then we are living in sanctifying grace. This is God’s ongoing work in our lives in an effort to make us whole and perfect in our love of God and neighbor.

Methodists believe that through prayer, worship, Bible study we continue to grow closer God. Through our mission and outreach to people in need we continue to grow more loving. In other words, the Holy Spirit continues to work in us helping us to become more perfect in our love of God and neighbor.

 

We differ from other denominations by believing we can backslide from salvation. Other denominations believe once saved always saved. Why the difference? Well, once save always saved leads to ignoring the needs of others because of the “I got mine get yours” attitude that we see so prevalent in our society today.

 

Every Christian is a sinner on the path of redemption. (And remember the word sin means to miss the mark or walking the wrong path or self-will and super Ego. Christians should not ever claim to be morally superior to other people. The one thing that should distinguish us is that we know we are lost without a leg to stand on, aside from the fact that Jesus loves us enough to take the blame for our sin.

 

When so many Christians have become what Jesus came to Earth to stop us from being, it’s indicative of a massive theological failure and a complete misunderstanding of what our salvation is supposed to accomplish. Self-righteous Christians should not exist, because self-righteousness is what we are supposed to be saved from.

 

In recent decades, many Christians have promoted a very individualized consumeristic account of Christian salvation. Basically, salvation has been made into a product that could be called afterlife or fire insurance. According to this salvation product description, God’s “justice” demands that every human be tortured in hell forever after they die as punishment for their sin, so the only way out of this terrible fate is to get a heavenly hand-stamp from the blood of Jesus by believing that he died for your sins emphatically enough, accepting him into your heart sincerely enough, letting him “take the wheel” decisively enough, obeying all his teachings enthusiastically enough, saying the official sinner’s prayer loudly enough, or some confusing combination thereof.

 

The one place we don’t see this jumbled up anxiety-inducing so-called gospel message is in the actual teachings of Jesus, Paul, or any other Christian evangelist in scripture. When the apostle Peter pleaded with the crowd listening to his first sermon at the Jerusalem temple to “save yourself from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40), he never asked them “If you die tonight, do you know whether you would go to heaven or hell?” Because to Peter, salvation wasn’t about afterlife insurance. It was about being detoxified from the corruption in the world around him. 1 Peter 1:22 describes the goal of this salvation: “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.” Genuine mutual love is not just a pleasant byproduct of getting into heaven; it is heaven.

 

Similarly, when Jesus confronted Saul on the road to Damascus, he didn’t say, “Accept me as your personal lord and savior, or else you’ll be tortured forever after you die.” Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). Jesus’ offer to Saul wasn’t a heavenly hand-stamp to secure his admission into the right afterlife. Jesus offered Saul an invitation to stop being an asshole (and thus leave hell). Saul accepted this invitation, changed his name to Paul, and became an apostle. In the process of becoming Paul, Saul wasn’t saved from anything outside of himself. Rather, Jesus saved the world from Saul by turning him into Paul. The world is saved from each of us who become Christian in a similar way.

 

The Wesleyan branch of Christianity to which I belong emphasizes two aspects to salvation that are described in the Bible: justification and sanctification. Neither of these needed to be understood in terms of a cheap and crude doctrine of afterlife insurance. In fact, it makes more sense to understand them in terms of Jesus saving the world from me. Justification describes my process of coming to trust that Jesus’ sacrifice for my sins on the cross has removed my need to constantly justify myself and deny my flaws. Self-justification is the reason I behave like an asshole when I do. If I fully embraced the grace I have received from God, then I would fully embody grace in how I treat others.

 

So, what do I need to be saved from? I need to be saved from me. I need to be saved from my self-centeredness, my selfishness, my need to control everything in my life, I need to be saved from judging you because you are different than me.  I need to be saved from believing that God loves me more than he loves the Muslim or the Mexican or the African or the Jew or the homosexual. I need to be saved from believing that every morning I should receive my marching orders from cable news instead of the Gospels. I need to be saved from believing I have all the right answers and you are always wrong.  I need to be saved from believing that it’s somebody else’s responsibility to care for those in need, it’s somebody else’s responsibility to feed the hungry and to house the homeless. What I desperately need is for God to save me from me.  Amen.



January 10, 2015

 

Outside of the Garden

 

Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:1-7

 

When I was a child my mother taught me not to touch the stove. However, as soon as my Mom left the room, I touched the stove and burned myself.

 

How many of you have a similar story? It may not be the hot stove. It may be your parent told you to play in the backyard but don’t leave and go into the front yard. But you did it anyway. Why, you needed to find out for yourself. It’s part of learning, and part of being human.

 

As we grow up we began to listen to and trust what other people tell us.

 

In doing research for today’s sermon I found an article that claims that men don't really grow up until about age 43, whereas women emerge as mature at 32, a full 11 years earlier!

 

Even the apostle Paul wrote in (1 Corinthians 3:1-2) to the quarrelsome Corinthian Christians, saying, "I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready ..."

 

But we're not focused on the Corinthian Scriptures here, but on the Garden of Eden story. Traditionally, that's a story of how sin entered the world through the disobedience of our first parents Adam and Eve, and as a result of their disobedience we all have lived with some kind of a curse.  The story, when understood that way, is sometimes labeled the fall of humankind, or simply the fall, or original sin.

 

Original sin claims that we all have something in common. And that something in common is we are human and we can make bad decisions. In other words why do we do something that we know we are not supposed to do? Well lets a look at the scripture for guidance.

 

Notice that the first instruction God gave in the garden was that the couple could eat from every tree except one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And the reason that the fruit of that tree was to be avoided was that it would bring death.

 

The narrator of the Genesis story also comments that in the garden, the man and the woman were both naked, and were not ashamed. That's pretty childlike. Small children are quite comfortable about being undressed, and plenty of 2-year-olds, fresh out of the bathtub, will go romping through the house in the buff until apprehended by a parent.

 

But then comes the story of the serpent and the disobedience of the first couple. The serpent represents temptation, to be sure, but the serpent also represents the urge that most of us experienced in late childhood or adolescence to push beyond the limits that our parents set for us. In Adam and Eve's case, God had said they could eat from every tree but one, so, of course, like typical teens, that's the fruit they had to taste.

 

And so they did and, in the process, they learned quite a bit. The forbidden fruit, after all, was from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and knowledge is exactly what they gained. The problem was, with the knowledge came troubling emotions, including shame, fear, and a sense of vulnerability.

 

Thus, the unquestioning and untroubled relationship they had had with God was gone. Whereas before they had enjoyed God's presence and saw God as the center of their world, now they hide and cower in fear. When God asks Adam why he is hiding Adam replies, "I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."

 

God immediately recognizes that Adam has knowledge he did not have before and that this knowledge did not come from God. And so God asks, "Who told you that you were naked?" God then asks if the pair have eaten from the forbidden tree. Adam responds by blaming Eve, Eve blames the serpent and the serpent has nobody else to blame. But God holds them all accountable.

 

What happens next in the scripture is sometimes read as punishment, but we're better off to read it

as unavoidable consequences. God says, "Okay, you wanted to taste fruit, and now you

have. And now here are the consequences of your actions. You, Adam, will now have to go to work and earn daily bread for your family. You, Eve, will bear children, but it will not be without pain. Your lives will run their course, and eventually you will die."


There's one more thing, too. Before sending them east of Eden, God made garments of skin for Adam and Eve, clothing that would cover them better than the fig leaves they had tried to use. We, too, when sending our kids on their way, often try to equip them with at least the starter stuff they will need.

 

So, instead of reading the Garden of Eden story as the entry of sin into the world, we can also read it as an example of what it means to grow up in the world as it is today, where maturing means moving from innocence to knowledge, moving from unquestioning accepting to wise evaluating.

 

None of this is to say that the world as we know it is not the result of sin marring God's creation, but it does suggest that we might look for a different lesson from this garden story than we usually do.

 

So, how do live outside of the garden? 

 

The garden story contains no resolution to this conundrum of having to live in a grown-up world. For that, we have to keep reading in the Bible, where we eventually find the testimony of patriarchs, prophets, poets, and priests. These people found that they don't have to be without the presence of God, because God can be found outside the garden as well. And so the Bible's people proclaim that the God who made both the garden and the world in which we live loves us and is worthy of our grown-up trust.

 

There's testimony like this one from the writer of Psalm 46:1 says "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble".

 

Or this one from the apostle Paul in Romans 8: 38-39 says: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord".

 

Understanding the garden story as a tale of growing up means that, unlike the traditional interpretation, this one is down to earth. It's something with which most of us can identify. We've been around the block enough times to know that life as a grown-up is not existence in a paradise -- even if we continue to be immature. But understanding that, we also know why we need the help of the Lord. The traditional interpretation tells us we need the help of the Lord because of sin in the world, but this newer interpretation tells us we need the help of the Lord because life is a grown-up proposition, and we are all vulnerable. Thus, God gives us the clothing of his grace in order to help us live outside the garden.

 

This garden story shows us that the Bible is right in tune with that jolt we get when we realize that it’s time to grow up. But it also sets the stage for us to hear the rest of the Bible's witness that grown-up help comes from the God who made us and who is with us whether we are inside or outside of the garden -- and whether we are cleverly disguised as a grown-up or are actually well on the way toward maturity. Amen


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