Tag Archives: Christ

Christ: Christmas Presents That Won’t Break

This is the final sermon based on the Advent study, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break, written by James Moore and Jacob Armstrong.  The original plan was to present the sermon on Sunday, December 30, 2017.  Unfortunately the frigid temperatures prompted the decision to cancel worship that Sunday.  Therefore, this has been edited to be given Sunday, January 7, 2018–Epiphany Sunday.  

As I post this, I can only wonder if the weather will cooperate tomorrow, too.  The forecast is for freezing rain and warming temperatures.  The question will be how accurate the forecast and how the timing of the warming temperatures will be.  I decided to go ahead and post this sermon due to all the uncertainty of the weather.  I pray that this completes the reader’s understanding of this Advent season’s messages.

 

Scripture connections:

 

Isaiah 60:1-7, NLT

“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
mighty kings will come to see your radiance.

“Look and see, for everyone is coming home!
Your sons are coming from distant lands;
your little daughters will be carried home.
Your eyes will shine,
and your heart will thrill with joy,
for merchants from around the world will come to you.
They will bring you the wealth of many lands.
Vast caravans of camels will converge on you,
the camels of Midian and Ephah.
The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense
and will come worshiping the Lord.

7The flocks of Kedar will be given to you,

   and the rams of Nebaioth will be brought for my altars.

I will accept their offerings,

and I will make my Temple glorious.

Matthew 2:1-12, NLT

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”

            King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

            “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities[c] of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’[d]

            Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

            After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

            12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

 

 

Christ: The Christmas Present That Won’t Break

 

            Here it is the day after Epiphany (January 6) and Christmas season is technically over. Yet, when Mother Nature decides to make her presence painfully evident, sometimes we just have to stop and reassess plans. The frigid temperatures that came with Christmas Day provides us a ‘reality check’ as James Moore referenced in his final Advent commentary.

Throughout Advent, the focus has been on the Christmas gifts that won’t break: hope, love, joy, and peace. These are gifts that come wrapped up in the final gift—Jesus. Having to confront the reality of the extreme cold and its risks to the congregation brought a sudden end to the five-week Advent study and Moore addresses this:

. . . sometimes we misread things. Sometimes we misunderstand things. Sometimes we misinterpret things. Sometimes, maybe much of the time we do that with Christmas: We misread and misunderstand what it’s really all about. Before we know it, Christmas has passed us by, and we have missed its warm embrace once again.” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 108)

 

In these last two weeks, do you find that you are already missing the true meaning of Christmas? Do you need a reality check now that Christmas is over and life’s routines have resumed?

Certainly the cold makes even daily chores difficult. The sunshine helps, but so many days have had clouds and getting up to start a new day—cold new day—is tough. The calendar is empty of special events and family gatherings. The leftover turkey is gone, and you actually are tired of the holiday cookies and candies.

In an odd way, the entire sense of expectation and excitement that surrounds our Christmas traditions feel broken. Yet, for weeks the focus has been on the gifts that won’t break—hope, joy, love, and peace. The final Christmas gift God gave us is his own presence in the form of a human baby we know as Jesus.

Christ’s birth is a gift from God that keeps all the other gifts from breaking and Christ is the greatest gift of Christmas. The gift of Christ is a gift that fits everybody, everywhere, anytime. And the gift of Christ provides endless hope, love, joy and peace. Christ is the unifying, lasting, and priceless gift that keeps the other gifts from breaking.

In Isaiah, the prophecy of the final chapter of the Christmas story is outlined right down to the possibility of the kings following the stars to find Jesus after his birth. Written about 681 BC (19911416), Isaiah 60:1-7, identifies that the kings and caravans [of people] will come from the east, from Midian, Ephah, Shelba, Kedar and Nebaioth. Isaiah even adds that the gifts they bring will be gold and frankincense (no reference to myrrh though).

The ancient Israelites remained faithful and hopeful. The literature of the Old Testament weaves the prophecy in and out that God would send a savior, a Messiah, a king to ‘save’ them. The Bible stories are filled with examples of how faith in God makes our earthly lives manageable. Moore explains faith:

Realizing that we can’t make it, that we are down and out, that we need help, God sends us a Savior. In Jesus Christ, God comes into our world . . . to pick us up, to hold us up, to see us through, and to bring us home. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 112)

 

The birth of Christ did not end the trials and tribulations of the faithful Jewish people. In fact, the Bible continues to share the struggles of the people in the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament.   The faithful maintained hope that “God cannot be defeated,” as Moore continues:

Even though evil will sometimes make loud noises in our world, as Christians we can be confident. We can be filled with hope because we know that ultimately God and righteousness will win. And just think of it: God wants to share the victory with us. That’s why the Christ Child came into the world . . . to bring the good news of God’s ultimate victory. That is our hope. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 113)

 

The birth of Jesus Christ gave us the gift of hope and the gift of love. By joining us on this earth, God came to teach us how to love one another. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, God’s plan is explained:

     And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus . . .

. . . 10 God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

     12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.

 

God’s gift of the baby Jesus Christ was how the plan was completed. The faithful, whether Jew or Gentile, accept that Jesus Christ, as God in human form, came to teach us how to love one another.

Moore uses an anecdote from Bill Hinson about building a doghouse for his daughter’s new puppy, Happy. After completing the project, he could not get Happy to go into the doghouse. Only after he gave up and went into the house, did he witness a transformation. He saw Happy wagging his tail, go joyously into the doghouse, and lie down serenely. How come? Hinson’s daughter had crawled inside and only then did he trot in beside her:

. . . Where all those other things had failed, love prevailed. That’s what Christmas teaches us. Love is the single most powerful thing in the world. And in the gift of Christ, we receive the gift of love in the most powerful and perfect way. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 114)

 

Happy’s story is much like our own. By accepting God’s gift of Jesus Christ, we receive salvation. The Christmas gifts that won’t break make our life journeys one that last through eternity.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

We celebrate the unbreakable Christmas gifts

of hope, love, joy, and peace.

And most of all, we celebrate the greatest gift,

Jesus Christ, your Son who came to be with us.

We know that because you are here,

our lives are renewed.

Give us the wisdom and courage

to put these unbreakable gifts to work

in our lives throughout the coming year,

knowing that you are with us always. –Amen. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 117)

Communion notes:

            The cynics might wonder how it is possible to consider that Jesus Christ is a Christmas gift that would not break. The reality of God’s presence in human form is that the body breaks. Our local tradition is to begin each month with the sacrament of Word and Table, aka communion or Eucharist. The very practice recognizes that Jesus, the man, was broken and died on a cross, but God continues.

            Today, we have heard the final chapter of the Christmas story remembering how the wise men came to find Jesus the infant. Their story is found only in Matthew, written to tell how Jesus fulfilled the ancient prophecies. Jesus is God’s gift of love.

            Join us at the table to accept the gift of Jesus Christ who demonstrated how to love one another despite all the trials and tribulations that confront us in our earthly lives.

            Join us by taking the bread and the juice to recommit ourselves to joining in God’s plan to use love as the tool to provide hope, love, joy and peace to one another right here in our own community, our nation, and our world. There is no other gift so unbreakable as God’s love wrapped up in the birth of Jesus Christ.

Works Cited

Moore, James W., and Jacob Armstrong. Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017.

The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

 

 

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Lent, a season of mindfulness Did God really say that?

given on Sunday, March 5, 2017:  Week 1 of Lent 2017

Each Sunday of Lent a memory verse and a challenge will be given as an exercise in mindfulness. The memory verses are selected from O. S. Hawkins’s book, The Joshua Code and the Jesus Code. This book has 52 verses from the Joshua Codes and 52 verses from the Jesus Code recommended to commit to memory. In Hawkins’s introduction, he states, “Scripture memorization enables us to take God’s Word with us anywhere and everywhere without carrying our Bibles. It enables us to receive the Word into our hearts, retain it in our minds, and recite it with our mouths that we might speak it with power.” (p.11)

 Opening scripture: Genesis 1:1-5 (NLT)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.[a] The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day.

Scripture connection: Romans 5:12-19 (NLT)

12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. 13 Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. 14 Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. 15 But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. 16 And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. 17 For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.

 

Closing scripture: Romans 5:20-21 (NLT)

20 God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. 21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Week’s memory verse: Genesis 3:1 (NLT)

“Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

Week’s challenge:

Identify the Devil’s 5 Ds in your life this week: Doubt, Discouragement, Division, Defeat, and Delay.

 

Reflection: Did God really say that?

Setting up for today’s sermon began weeks ago as I kept thinking about Lent and what can make it meaningful, challenging and even memorable. Lent is a season that traditionally is filled with negative images and I struggle with framing my faith in negative thinking. Then the phrase, a season of mindfulness, filtered into my thoughts and stuck.

Lent is a time for reflection but also discipline; and that lead me to mindfulness. Discipline is mindfulness. Discipline guides Christians in their faith journey and, just like New Years Day when resolutions are made, Lent provides Christians a 40-day timeframe to honestly examine whether or not they are living the Christian principles they profess.

Therefore, maybe we could call Lent a time for “true confessions.” Admittedly that is a catchy phrase, and in my frame of reference, that phrase was considered to be a racy publication. So I had to discard that. I did not want any misunderstanding that Lent is a time for confessing one’s personal forays, rather Lent is for private reflection and recommitting to following God’s commandments.

Let’s begin Lent with a commitment to memorize one Bible verse each week. Today we begin with a verse from Genesis 3:1. The setting is the Garden of Eden, after creation, and God tells Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge. The conflict develops when the serpent, also known as Satan a fallen angel or the Devil, challenges Eve that eating that fruit will not cause death. The serpent says, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

That one question is sometimes accredited as all the start of sin, but is it really that question or is that question just the critical line in the story that changes everything? If we trim that one verse down to one reflective question and memorize it, we have a self-check available at any time: Did God really say that?

The author of The Joshua Code and the Jesus Code, O. S. Hawkins, writes:

Scripture memorization enables us to take God’s Word with us anywhere and everywhere without carrying our Bibles. It enables us to receive the Word into our hearts, retain it in our minds, and recite it with our mouths that we might speak it with power. This is exactly what our Lord did during His days of temptation in the wilderness of Judea. With each temptation Satan brought Jesus’ way in Matthew 4, Jesus answered with, “It is written . . .”  The word received and retained in our hearts and minds overcome temptations when recited with our mouths. (Hawkins 2015, 11-12)

 

The challenge for this week is to memorize “Did God really say that?” Those few words provide us a tool to use whenever Satan confronts us.

Of course using that question to reflect on our own behaviors successfully must include an understanding of what sin is and how Satan/the Devil can lead us to sinful behaviors. John Wesley identifies sin as one of his ‘core terms’ defined in the study notes of the Wesley Study Bible:

. . . convinced by his study of Scripture, the cumulative wisdom of the church, and reflection on his life and the circumstances of his time that there lies within us a power, working with such force that it is capable of destroying us. Wesley saw that naming the source of our problem as sin, that is, willful action setting us against the will of God and turning us away from communion with God . . . (2009531)

 

One’s definition of sin can vary, but primarily Wesley states sin is knowing what God expects from us, but then giving in to a “force” that causes us to turn away from God’s expectations. This is not “original sin” that some denominations profess. This is a believer going against what they believe God tells them.

In the Life Application Bible study notes, sin is defined as “giving in to temptation.” (199112) As Christians we are to realize that temptation alone is not the sin, but giving in to that temptation is sin. This definition parallels Wesley’s and places us in the position to know what temptation or what Satan does to influence us.

How do we recognize what Satan or the Devil is doing that makes us consider going against what God tell us? There are 5 Ds listed in the Life Application Bible notes that help clear this up: doubt, discouragement, diversion, defeat, and delay. (199113) Beginning with the memory verse, “Did God really tell you that?”, add these questions and thoughts for reflection:

  • Doubt: What made you question God’s words and goodness?
  • Discouragement: What caused you not to trust God to manage it?
  • Diversion: What happened that caused you not to follow God’s commandment?
  • Defeat: What did you not do because you thought you would fail?
  • Delay: What did you put off you knew you should do?

These days of Lent are the ideal time to review your life—its decisions, its lifestyle, and its present state. Are you listening to God through prayer and through scripture? Are you listening to God through the words of family and friends serving as God’s spokesman? Or are you listening to the Devil’s 5Ds?

Lent is the ideal time to review what practices can help defend you from the Devil’s temptation. Wesley recommended the acts of piety as the tools to remain in right relationship with God:

Works of piety are acts we do that express reverence and love for God. They include such means of grace as studying Scripture devotionally, hearing Scripture read and sermons preached, receiving the Lord’s Supper, praying, fasting, and coming together for conversation and mutual support as we seek to live faithfully. (20091066)

 

The acts of piety may seem daunting at first, but implementing these acts defends us from the temptations to doubt, to give in to discouragement, to be diverted, to sense defeat, and to delay action. The acts of piety keep us from sin.

On the same page as the definition of sin in the Life Application Bible, are three steps to resisting the Devil:

  1. Pray for strength to resist temptation.
  2. Run, sometimes literally run away from temptation.
  3. Say no when confronted with what we know is wrong. (199112)

 

Three simple methods to defend one’s self from sin.

 

During this first full week of Lent, keep practicing the memory verse: Did God really say that? To complete the self-reflection, ask yourself which way is Satan trying to get you to sin. The challenge to put the memory verse into action is easier if one knows the Devil’s 5D’s well enough to identify them, too. Did the Devil try to tempt you through doubt? Through discouragement? Through a diversion? Through defeat? Through delay?

As Christians, we must acknowledge our humanness. We cannot live in today’s world unaffected by the influences that swirl around us. Sometimes the evil is so evident we can easily spot it, but sometimes evil quietly sifts into our thoughts distracting us from what God teaches us in scripture and by the disciples that have lived before us.

God accepts us even with our sins, but through his grace we are forgiven. The scriptures share the stories and the lessons of those who believed so that we may learn how to live as disciples, too. Paul personally knew God’s forgiveness and turned his life completely around accepting Jesus as the promised Messiah who died so that we may also be forgiven and receive life eternal.

Use Lent as a season of mindfulness to memorize a weekly verse and then accept the challenge to purposefully reflect on how that verse can strengthen your faith.

Closing prayer:

Dear Forgiving Father,

 

In your story, we find grace.

In your story, we find love.

In your story, we find guidance.

 

Help us to avoid temptation.

Help us to hear your words.

Help us to live our faith.

 

Let the bread and the cup

Bring us closer to you

As we reaffirm our faith.

 

In the name

Of the Father,

The Son,

And the Holy Spirit, amen.

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In Paul’s words: We are one. We are the light.

given on Sunday, February 26, 2017–final sermon in series based on Ephesians

Scripture connection: Ephesians 4:17-31 (NLT)

Living as Children of Light

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”[a] Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,[b] guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.

Ephesians 5:6-15 (NLT)

Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. 12 It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. 13 But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, 14 for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,

“Awake, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

Living by the Spirit’s Power

15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.

Reflection: In Paul’s words: We are one. We are the light.

Paul’s ancient world may seem awfully small compared to today’s world in which communication happens in an instant and one can travel from one side of the globe to the other side in a matter of hours.  Personal relationships could be kept private as the only means of ‘seeing’ the relationship was face-to-face since there were no myriads of cameras or a social media platform to share scuttlebutt instantly. Yet, when Paul began his missionary work, he traveled to share the good news.

Travel was a tedious process and in Paul’s case, he stopped in communities to work as he carried the Word to new communities. No mass media was available, so his very person had to be the witness to a new way of life, the Christian way. Paul’s very life had to be a visible testimony to living a Christian lifestyle.

The scripture from Ephesians talks about the earliest Christians were to live in the ‘light of the Lord’ (Eph 5:8). Literature offers a multitude of analogies that use ‘light’ as goodness, purity, cleanliness among other positive images. The significant meaning even of theatrical costumes pits good versus evil, light versus darkness, the white hat versus the black hat. The cinematographers carefully manipulate light in the scenes to identify the good versus evil themes in the stories. And music aficionados can identify tones that are light versus dark, good versus evil. Paul’s use of light means to live the Christian lifestyle with God at the center.

How does one know what that lifestyle is? Paul outlines the very behaviors God expects from his faithful. They are itemized in the scripture:

  • Eph 4:24—stop telling lies,
  • Eph 4:26—don’t let anger control you.
  • Eph 4:28—quit stealing, do good hard work, give generously,
  • Eph 4:29—don’t use foul or abusive language; be good and helpful; and offer words of encouragement, and
  • Eph 4:31—get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil.

The list applies today as much as it applied during Paul’s lifetime. The same problems and/or evil behaviors continue to thrive in our world now.

Paul’s letter was meant to encourage the young congregation to maintain the very behaviors Jesus had modeled and taught during his lifetime. The list of behaviors changes a bit in the next chapter, but again it is a clear that following God’s commandment binds all believers into one unified church. The letter continues:

  • Eph 5:6—don’t be fooled by those who try to make excuses for sin,
  • Eph 5:7—don’t participate in things sinful people do,
  • Eph 5:8—live as people of light.
  • Eph 5:11—expose evil deed, nor
  • Eph 5:12—do not even talk about the evil deeds.

Living a God-centered, Christ-centered life places one in the light. Following God’s one commandment in all relationships in our lives placed a spotlight on the evil in the world around us, too. Just take a few moments and think about the TV shows, the movies, and even the books that we read for pleasure. The fiction stories are filled with good versus evil; then place yourself into those stories and ask whether you are living in the light or living in the darkness.

Step away from the fiction, now, and look at the news reports and all the social media feeds that we see crossing our screens. Can you spot the darkness? The evil in the world fills our lives in so many different ways, but follow God’s ways to keep the light in your life and in the life of others who surround you—whether in person or in cyberspace. Let God’s light shine in all that you do and say.

In the scriptures from last week, we discussed how to keep God’s lifestyle central in our private relationships—those with our spouses and children, those of children to their parents. Living in the light keeps our relationships healthy. The same rule applies to relationships in all facets of our lives.

One relationship that can challenge a Christian is that found in the work place. Yet, living one’s faith on the job is another means of testifying for God. Treating the fellow worker, the customer and the boss as you want to be treated develops more positive work experiences even work environments. When others are bad mouthing the boss, another worker, or the customer, the setting becomes cancerous. When the work forces one into a position that challenges beliefs, then the resulting conflict sickens the soul and can lead to health problems. What does one do in such cases?

No easy answer, but God wants us to be the light in the world. Stop joining in on idol conversations that promote negative attitudes. Do your best to ask others to stop, too. If the job places you into an ethical dilemma, which does happen, the choice is more complicated.

The job is income and meets the need of the family. The job uses your training and natural gifts. Yet even if you like the work and do it well, if the boss asks you to do something unethical you are then asked to go against your standards, your Christian beliefs. The conflict that develops makes it difficult to live in God’s light much less to shine as his light.

I confronted this issue within a year after leaving college with a journalism degree. My goal in life to save the world as a journalist ran into the issue of right and wrong. In journalism, the circulation sets the value of advertising. Circulation is reported to a national database that determines that cost. Self-reporting is done with an affidavit that the figures are accurate. The publisher told me to sign the figures. I knew the figures were inflated and it forced me to make a decision—I quit. I signed it, yes; but I quit and went back to college to get a teaching certificate. I had to make a life changing decision, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

These decisions reflect who we are as Christians. No one wants to be forced into a decision that risks one’s livelihood or forces a change that could be financially devastating. Being trained in one job and then looking for a new job does not always mean the transition is smooth or that you may have to be retrained. Yet, God has give us the instructions on how to live our lives. He sent Jesus to show us, and then Paul tells us in his letters, too.

Our relationships in this world develop the community in which we live. We are not challenged in our country to live a secret life nor are we persecuted for living a Christian life. Our lives are defined by our decisions even in our civic responsibility to vote. As a voter, we create a relationship with elected officials. The election’s outcome, any election, reflects the belief system of the populace. If we vote using God’s viewpoint, we continue to maintain our personal principles. If the outcome does not match what our vote, then we must align ourselves with that decision. That does not mean that we give up our Christian principles, instead the election may place us in a position to be more vocal or active in demonstrating the Christian principles we live.

Living a Christian lifestyle does not simplify our lives in the secular world, but God knows our positions. He does not task us in a way that we cannot manage. He is beside us as we confront the conflicts in our life. He gives us the strength needed to stand firm in our relationships. He provides us the gifts to use and the words to share to make our relationships into beacons of light for others, too.

This February we may face the darkness even in the bright sunshine. The darkness makes us unsettled and causes us to feel heavy as we watch the latest news reports and hear the latest talk in town. Where is the light? The light is our responsibility. Paul tells the Ephesians and us that we are to live as ‘Children of the Light.’

As God’s faithful today, we have as much responsibility of sharing the good news/God’s message as any of the ancient disciples did. There is no excuse for us to act as though we do not know God. There is no excuse for us to casually ignore the evil around us. There is no excuse for us to be passive in a world where evil is aggressive.

Take up God’s commission to share the Word and to make disciples of Christ, but also stand up to evil. If others are sharing dark messages on Facebook, then do not share them. In fact, hit that button and remove them from your own feed. Make a comment on postings that you find offensive so others may see God’s light in your life. Post some positive words so others might see God’s light in them.

As you watch and/or listen to the latest news, use prayer. Do not whine and complain. Do not let the ‘fake’ news pass on to others through words spoken as though you agree. Instead, listen with God’s ears. Is there another viewpoint to consider despite the words presented? Could there be a positive to the report that is being overlooked? Do you need to speak out? Maybe you need to contact your representative or other elected official. Maybe you need to write a letter to the editor. Maybe you need to research an answer on your own, easier to do with the internet offering so many options or a library close to our homes.

Being God’s light is not easy. There is no quick fix to the problems that evil causes. But, in our world, we have a responsibility to live as beacons for God. We must say no to evil in any way that we can at all the times that we can in any way that we can. We must do good in any way that we can in all the ways that we can at any time that we can.

Paul reminded the Ephesians that all who believe in God and who accept Jesus Christ as their savior are also baptized by the Holy Spirit to serve as God’s light in this world. You may not think you can do anything, but the Holy Spirit is alive within you and you can do something. You are a beacon and the light shines in the life you live—as long as you reflect God’s love.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or we can rejoice that thorn bushes have roses.” I chose to see thorn bushes have roses, just like I see the glass as half full not half empty. I chose to see good whenever I can, too. I chose to follow God and pray that he guides me in all relationships to be the light in the darkness for others to see his love.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Paul’s letter serves as a beacon of light

in a world darkened by evil.

Guide us in using our own words

to serve as rays of light around us.

Paul’s words encourage us

to strengthen our relationships.

Guide us to see our relationships

in your light and to love one another.

 

Today we hear you speak

in the words of scripture and hymn.

Fill our hearts with love for one another

so our world shines brightly.

Give us the words to build up relationships

that will enrich our lives, our world.

Armor us so we resist evil influences

and lead others to your light. –Amen.

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Revelations reveal secrets and builds hope

given on Sunday, November 1, 2015

Scripture base: Revelations 21:10-21 & Revelations 7:9-17 (NLT)

I admit I have Royal Fever. The excitement with the World Series makes it very difficult to admit that November is here. The weather must be confused, too, with all the delightful weather we have had and forecast for the week ahead.

Of course the biggest problem is that Royal Fever tends to distract a person, so I admit to another issue—preparing today’s worship service. Today is All Saints Day. The temptation is to connect the two but that might be a real stretch. Yet, there is one image that can—the concept of Kingdom.

Witnessing the transformation of Kansas City into a Royal Kingdom with blue fountains, blue lights, and the Royal logos everywhere creates a visual image and a unity that is creating a kingdom filled with new life.

Reading Revelations can be intimidating, but today’s two selections create visual images that help us anticipate the new life promised for those who accept Christ in our lives. The heavenly kingdom shared in Revelations 21 builds a mental picture of breathtaking beauty:

11 It shone with the glory of God and sparkled like a precious stone—like jasper as clear as crystal.

And the description goes on listing precious stones: jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst and even pearls.

Granted the Royal Kingdom is colored by all the blue sapphires, diamonds, and pearls one could imagine, and it has transformed our world. Does the description of God’s heavenly kingdom create a sense of excitement and anticipation for you?

On this All Saints Day, the picture created in Revelations captures my attention. I cannot imagine the visual glory that will greet us as we enter into God’s kingdom, but the words in Revelations 21 gives me renewed conviction that God’s promise of eternal life is real.

Just in the past year, we have witnessed losses in our community as well as in the national and international communities.  Those who have died took a little light away from our community, but the promise of Revelation’s words provides each of us hope. Not only hope for our own eternal life, but also hope to reconnect with those who have already moved to God’s eternal kingdom.

All Saints Day provides an opportunity to review the list of those who have moved away from our world and on to the heavenly world. We know those who have gone, and we know the promise God has made for all Christians. We use Communion to review and to reaffirm our own covenant as Christians.

In the scripture from Revelations 7, there are echoes of Christ’s story in these words that we share during the liturgy of communion:

13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”

14 And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”

Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in[a] the great tribulation.[b] They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.

The words remind us that accepting God’s gift of his son and his death for our sins, we are purified. Remember the promise in John 3:16:

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (KJV)

or

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (NRSV)

or

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

or

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[a] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (NLT)

Powerful words. A guarantee. A home run—no a grand slam.

Today, All Saints Day, we hear the promise and we can imagine heaven through the words in Revelations. And, remembering all those who have guided us in this earthly world, we hear the promise of joining those already in God’s heavenly kingdom:

15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
God’s kingdom is a kingdom free of all the tribulations of our earthly life. The decision to believe in God and to accept his greatest gift of his son will turn our earthly tribulation-filled life into an eternal life may not be easy, but believe. The saints in our lives know and the secret is revealed in the words of Revelation:

17 For the Lamb on the throne[c]
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Revelations reveals the secret to eternal life and provides us hope. All Saints Day and celebrating the sacrament of communion provides the perfect diamond for a winning season. Each of us is a royal witness to God’s kingdom. Share the story, live the story, and receive the crown.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

You manage our lives in ways we do not see.

The saints in our lives have coached us

By modeling the one rule that guarantees

A winning season in our earthly world:

Love one another as you want to be loved.

May we share in the meal of champions,

The bread and the wine of the Lord’s table.

Let them be for us the blood and the body of Christ.

Purify us so we may be winning Christians

Teaming with love for one another.

Thank you for all the grace you provide,

For all the opportunities to serve one another,

And for all the forgiveness when we err.

May scripture strengthen us in our tribulations.

May the legends in our lives be saints at your table.

May the promise of life eternal fuel for our game.

Grant us peace as we share in the cup and the bread.

Fill us with energy as we continue in life’s journey.

Keep hope alive as we hear your word.

And forgive us when we stumble.

We thrill with the promise of life eternal

As we join together at your holy table. –Amen.

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Where is the light?

given on Sunday, June 30, 2013

Supporting scriptures:

Genesis 1:3Let there be light…

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.[a] The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

  • Psalm 27:1—The Lord is my light…
  • Isaiah 42:1-9–…And you will be the light…
  • Matthew 5:13-16…You are the light…

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

  • Luke 2:22—He is a light to reveal God.
  • John 1:1-9—The Word gave…light…
  • John 3:20-21—All who do evil hate the light…
  • Acts 13:47-49I have made you a light… (to Paul & Barnabus)

47 For the Lord gave us this command when he said,

‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.’[a]

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers. 49 So the Lord’s message spread throughout that region.

  • I John 1:5-7—God is light, and there is no darkness…
  • Revelations 21:21-25…The lamb is the light…

21 The twelve gates were made of pearls—each gate from a single pearl! And the main street was pure gold, as clear as glass.

22 I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. 24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. 25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there.

Did you see the Super Moon?  What about the lightening the night before last?  Did you notice that even when the electricity went out, there was enough of the Super Moon to help get around the house, not to mention out on the porch?  The natural lights of the moon, the sun, the stars, and even lightening cannot match man-made lights.  God’s light is the best.

In thinking about the changes that our world undergoes, there are constants that remain the same and those are the God things.  God’s lights are one of the constants.  The question we each must ask is where is THE LIGHT in our own lives, or in other words:

  • Where is God in our lives?
  • Are you living your life in such a manner that others see the light as a constant?
  • Do you radiate God’s light so well that others see you as a constant?
  • Does your God-light shine so brightly that even in the darkest moments you can see the way?
  • Can others see the way because of you?

These are the questions that can keep a person awake at night.  Personally I ponder whether or not my life is a reflection of God’s grace.  Sometimes I go back and review, wondering where did I fail.  Other times I feel so good about life, I simply praise God for all the good I see.

Praying hands are simply a must in a world that we have so little control over.  Keeping that open channel with God becomes like breath itself.  At times it is difficult to even know if we are praying, yet at the same time we also know when we are not praying.  Others can even tell.  When we live a prayer-filled life, we shine God’s light so brightly that others recognize it and even seek to follow it.

Keeping God’s light blazing bright in our lives comes down to practicing the disciplines that keep The Light charged up.  If we fail to keep the disciplines, then the light dims and pretty soon looks burned out.  Once the light is gone, it becomes difficult to see, to work, to love, to play, and even to sleep.  It takes work to get that Light back on.

Wrapping up the church year, each one of us needs to check our practices and see if our lights can shine as brightly as they can for the coming year.  The time to evaluate the sources of our spiritual energy is right now, so we can shine for all those we meet.  We cannot, must not, put it off.  Therefore, here are the evaluation questions:

  1. How often do you read the scriptures?
  2. Do you pray daily, hourly, or continually?
  3. Are you actively participating in a small group?
  4. Can you remember the last sacrament you took?
  5. Have you practiced fasting in one form or another?
  6. How often do you attend worship?

For most church members, attending worship and praying regularly are not a problem.  And if the church practices regular days for communion, then in all likelihood, that is not a concern.  The problem spots are the practices of reading and studying scripture, fasting, and participating in small group or Wesleyan-styled class meetings.  Even worship attendance can be an issue if you do not follow the recommended 48 out of 52 weeks of attendance.

These are the acts of piety that John Wesley felt were essential to maintaining one’s faith.  He knew that maintaining God’s light in our life is difficult and with the methods he insisted following, that light became a guiding beam to those who were without hope, without food, without shelter, and without the essentials for daily living.  And, as the light draws in the moths on hot summer nights, the Wesleyan disciples drew others to God.

Are we, right here in our very own community, following the Wesleyan methods we say we believe in a manner that God’s light radiates through and from us to draw others to God’s light?  That is a question we must answer if we are to follow God’s commission.

This is the point when the praying hands get dirty fingernails.  Granted, we realize that this is a metaphor, but Wesley certainly did not separate the two.  An area in which his ministry was well received was the coal-mining region in England.  One of the dirtiest jobs that seemed to deposit a level of grime over everything needed the most. The people needed God.  Now consider our own region.  Isn’t it interesting that at one point this area was once a mining region, too; but since the industry is now gone, does God’s light shine?

Even if the type of economic base switches in a community, there is no reason to think the need for God’s light has changed.  God is available for everybody.   God’s region is not limited by one geographic set of boundaries.  God’s region is global.  This is why Methodists get dirty fingernails just about anywhere they go.  This is why the acts of mercy Wesley encouraged becomes part of the fuel source for God’s light.

Evaluating how dirty our fingernails are getting as a small rural church as well as part of the global church might be challenging.  Well, it is challenging because it is tempered by the economy of a small church.  First, there should be no apologies for the lack of funds available for all the various missions whether it is the Heifer Project, the Ludhiana Medical Mission, the Hydrate Haiti project, the Imagine No Malaria campaign, or the Mozambique initiative.  The list can go on and on.

God’s work is not recorded by the amount of dollars spent.  Rather God’s work is measured by illumination.  Beginning in our own homes, are we being good stewards of God’s resources and the money we earn.  And in our own communities, the light needs shining.  As we evaluate how dirty our fingernails are, we need to begin at the center of our geographical community.  Here we go:

  1. Are the people in the community fed?
  2. Are the neighbors able to afford clothes that they need?
  3. Is the neighbors housing safe and adequate for their needs?
  4. Is the community prepared to handle a disaster?
  5. Does a special need come to mind?

Certainly an evaluation begins with the basic needs for life to be sustained, but it can be broadened to consider the next level of needs—educational, social, community services, and more.

In the pre-conference prayer study, the example of concentric circles was used to demonstrate the various levels of prayer.  The same concentric circle pattern can also identify the levels of ministry for a local church.  The nucleus or center is the physical church itself.  The next circle is the immediate area in the community.  The third circle is outer limits of the town, and then the circle one-mile from the church.  Additional circles needed to be included in rural communities based on how far reaching the members determine.  This may mean a 5-mile radius or a 10 mile-radius, and since our counties pivot around a larger community, an additional circle that bumps up to the city limits of the county seat.

What about the outreach beyond the immediate community, you might ask?  The connectional aspect of the United Methodist Church comes into the picture at this point.  The apportionments that are assessed each church provide the basic foundation for connectional ministry.  It is the choice of the individual churches to determine how involved they wish to become in the global ministries.  This does not mean that the small churches are exempt; it simply means that they can determine the extent of giving beyond the apportionments.

The acts of mercy send out the beams of light so all may know God.  What our small, rural church does adds just that much more to the luminosity of God’s light.  During the next year, we need to keep God’s light shining brightly.  We need to remember that all we do is for the glory of God, and when we keep that as the ultimate goal, we are the light, too.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

You are the source of light:  sun, moon, and stars.

You are the source of love in our lives

         that shines so brightly others see you, too.

Guide us as we learn how to turn on our lights

         so others are drawn to your love.

Guide us as we strengthen our faith

         through the spiritual disciplines.

Guide us as we learn to minister to others

         so the light shines for them, too.

May we determine ways to shine your light

         so others may find the way to salvation.  –Amen

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April’s apocrypha lessons: Telling the old, old stories

given on Sunday, April 21, 2013

Apocrypha Lesson:  Stories of Faith

         Have I a story to tell you!  I have been swamped by all the stories I have heard around town.  Granted some of the stories may be a bit exaggerated since they are spreading like wildfire, but still the stories are absolutely amazing.  I want to go see for myself.

There is this community that is doing all kinds of things differently.  They are just like the rest of us, at least they appear to be, but there is something unique about them.  They go to the stores, like we do.  They all have jobs, like we do.  They have families no differently than we do.  Their houses look no different than anybody else’s around here.  I really cannot see anything different, yet there is something special about them.

The stories they tell are something else. . . the officials are always going through the neighborhood like they are looking for something.  There are certain times during the week that they all get together for some reason.  When they walk out the buildings just about noon on any Sunday, they seem so happy.  They are chatting with each other, the kids are running around their parents and playing with friends, and teenagers just stand around smiling, talking, even laughing.

What is this all about?  This is the story that I hear—they are Christians.  They talk about how God was born as a man, a man they called Jesus, Christ, Messiah, even Savior.  They still have the same illnesses, the same ups and downs in their businesses, and sometimes they have troubles—really big trouble like car wrecks, fires, health issues, and even broken families or relationships.  Yet there is this unique quality about them that makes me want to know more about these Christians.

Whenever you meet people who are open about their faith in God, you begin to notice some of the common characteristics that seem to make them happier than others.  They seem to handle the trials and tribulations of life with a certain finesse that others don’t.  In fact others may just give up and call it quits, but not Christians.

Growing up, my mom had unusual ways of adding her faith into the daily routines.  Living on a farm, we always had cats and dogs around.  In fact that is probably one of the best parts of farm life.  Many hours of my week were spent sitting on the step playing with the kittens, or looking for them in the barn.

One year we had a litter of kittens while I was in college, so Mom ended up naming them.  She called them Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  I tried to figure out why, but the Old Testament story is the key.  I am sure you remember the story:  the three refused to worship the King’s god, a pagan god, and he threw them into the furnace.  When he looked into the flames, he saw four men walking around.

The King could not explain it, so called the men out of the flames.  Sure enough, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were not harmed at all.  Who was the fourth man?  Well, he was God.  Certainly the story sounds like a tall tale, but the story had the desired outcome.  And the King is transformed.  He abandons his pagan god and praises the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  The story concludes

Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. –the NRSV

Now Daniel tells that story.  He, too, was a close friend of the King, and he stood up for his faith.  Faith protected him and faith continues to protect us throughout our lifetimes as we meet challenge after challenge.

The apocrypha tells more stories, too.  In fact the set of books in the apocrypha are filled with novels, folktales, poems, and instructions.  These books may not have been ‘canonized’ and excluded from the Bible structure that is familiar to most 21st century Christians, but that does not mean they are not acceptable religious readings for us.

The stories found in the apocrypha book, “Bel and the Dragon,” are sometimes published as Daniel 14.  The stories in Daniel are considered to be folktales, rather like those in Aesop’s Fables or some of the tall tales we have in American folklore.

The story of Bel is a great lesson to share with those who may be following false gods.  Daniel was refusing to follow the King’s order to pray to Bel, a pagan god in Babylon.  Being a friend, the King simply could not get rid of Daniel.  Instead there developed this challenging scenario (This is the full text, but for storytelling purposes, I will paraphrase it.):

Daniel was a companion of the king, and was the most honoured of all his friends.

            3 Now the Babylonians had an idol called Bel, and every day they provided for it twelve bushels of choice flour and forty sheep and six measures[a] of wine. The king revered it and went every day to worship it. But Daniel worshipped his own God.

So the king said to him, ‘Why do you not worship Bel?’ He answered, ‘Because I do not revere idols made with hands, but the living God, who created heaven and earth and has dominion over all living creatures.’

            6 The king said to him, ‘Do you not think that Bel is a living god? Do you not see how much he eats and drinks every day?’ And Daniel laughed, and said, ‘Do not be deceived, O king, for this thing is only clay inside and bronze outside, and it never ate or drank anything.’

            8 Then the king was angry and called the priests of Bel[b] and said to them, ‘If you do not tell me who is eating these provisions, you shall die. But if you prove that Bel is eating them, Daniel shall die, because he has spoken blasphemy against Bel.’ Daniel said to the king, ‘Let it be done as you have said.’

            10 Now there were seventy priests of Bel, besides their wives and children. So the king went with Daniel into the temple of Bel. 11 The priests of Bel said, ‘See, we are now going outside; you yourself, O king, set out the food and prepare the wine, and shut the door and seal it with your signet. 12 When you return in the morning, if you do not find that Bel has eaten it all, we will die; otherwise Daniel will, who is telling lies about us.’ 13 They were unconcerned, for beneath the table they had made a hidden entrance, through which they used to go in regularly and consume the provisions. 14 After they had gone out, the king set out the food for Bel. Then Daniel ordered his servants to bring ashes, and they scattered them throughout the whole temple in the presence of the king alone. Then they went out, shut the door and sealed it with the king’s signet, and departed. 15 During the night the priests came as usual, with their wives and children, and they ate and drank everything.

            16 Early in the morning the king rose and came, and Daniel with him. 17 The king said, ‘Are the seals unbroken, Daniel?’ He answered, ‘They are unbroken, O king.’ 18 As soon as the doors were opened, the king looked at the table, and shouted in a loud voice, ‘You are great, O Bel, and in you there is no deceit at all!’

            19 But Daniel laughed and restrained the king from going in. ‘Look at the floor’, he said, ‘and notice whose footprints these are.’ 20 The king said, ‘I see the footprints of men and women and children.’

            21 Then the king was enraged, and he arrested the priests and their wives and children. They showed him the secret doors through which they used to enter to consume what was on the table. 22 Therefore the king put them to death, and gave Bel over to Daniel, who destroyed it and its temple.  –the NRSV.AC version listed in Daniel 14

Such stories of faith are found throughout the Bible—old and new testaments.  And even as we listen to the stories of our own families, we can discover the stories of faith being passed down from one generation to another.  Jesus told stories, he even asked the little children to gather around him so he could tell them stories.

Stories of faith have not been kept out of schools, either.  Look at the literature from that shared with preschoolers to those in college anthologies.  The stories of faith continue to spread the news of Jesus Christ.  Are we continuing to share our own stories of faith?  Do your children and grandchildren know why you believe?  Do you demonstrate your faith to them when life challenges you?

Paul shared stories, one being his own transformation from Saul the Jewish leader punishing the earliest Christians, to Paul the first traveling Christian missionary.  He was eager to share the stories of Jesus’ work and he did not ignore the ancient Jewish stories of faith.  In Hebrews 11, Paul lists or refers to all kinds of faith stories listing them from the Old Testament right through the New Testament:

Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see. The elders in the past were approved because they showed faith.  . . . 36 But others experienced public shame by being taunted and whipped; they were even put in chains and in prison. 37 They were stoned to death, they were cut in two, and they died by being murdered with swords. They went around wearing the skins of sheep and goats, needy, oppressed, and mistreated. 38 The world didn’t deserve them. They wandered around in deserts, mountains, caves, and holes in the ground.

39 All these people didn’t receive what was promised, though they were given approval for their faith. 40 God provided something better for us so they wouldn’t be made perfect without us.  –the NRSV

Whether the stories you tell are your own, or whether you tell the old, old stories of Jesus Christ, tell them.  Make sure that your children, your grandchildren, your neighbors, and all know how God is your strength, how faith makes life manageable, how even when the clouds cover up the sun, your faith keeps the light of God’s Son shining bright.

Dear Holy Father, writer of the greatest stories ever told,

Thank you for those who told the first stories of faith

   and those telling the stories today.

Thank you for demonstrating your grace, your love,

   and your forgiveness time and time again.

Help us to hear the stories of those today

     whose faith is strong and ever growing.

Help us to share the stories of others who know you

     and stories we know because we believe, too.

May those who still have not heard the stories,

     hear them now.

May those who first hear the stories be transformed

     and discover they, too, have stories to share.  –Amen

 

 

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Such a Long Wait and Now This!

given on Easter Sunday, March 31, 201

Scripture I:  Matthew 25;31-36 from the NLT

31 “But when the Son of Man[a] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations[b] will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

Part A:  The Wait

            Reviewing the chronology of the Bible opens up such a different perspective towards Christianity’s development.  The timeline can create separation of historical events, but it also creates an understanding how critical faith is when battling evil influences.  In a way, studying the timeline creates hope.

            The 400-year gap between Malachi’s prophecies and the birth of the Messiah seems a long time to wait.  Finally the word was out and the faithful heard that the Messiah had arrived.  Some actually were able to meet Jesus face to face; some were healed and were raving over the powers of this man.  The change in lives all around the region was happening and word was spreading.  Finally, after waiting for 400 years, the King of the Jews was alive and with them!

Who would have thought that at the very time that Jesus was becoming well known to the people, the Jewish leaders were skeptical and feeling threatened.  Rather than recognize the truth of who Jesus is, they battled it.

We can relate to that.  Every time a major cultural shift occurs or some dramatic event happens or we experience a life-changing event personally, we face uncertainty.  Our fears bubble up and we find ourselves fighting the change that is thrust upon us.  We know that the change could be good, but it is so far from what we know and are comfortable with.

Jesus understands this.  And knowing the work to be done, knowing all as God knows all, he was aware was going on in the minds of the Jewish leaders and the political leaders of Rome.  Yet, he continues preaching, teaching, and healing.  The crowds continue to grow.  It is difficult to remain in the background.  The stories travel ahead of him, faster than his can.

After all the centuries of waiting for the Messiah, the three short years were coming to a climax.  And Jesus knows.  It is almost Passover week, the biggest holiday in the Jewish faith.  The story continues in Matthew 26:

1When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man[a] will be handed over to be crucified.”

Jesus says this right out loud to his Disciples.  They are still trying to understand the words Jesus just said about the final judgment and now he is saying he will be crucified.  Just imagine the confusion, the shock, even the fear.

Yet, Jesus, the Son of God, knew.  The gospel of Matthew continues:

At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him.

The 400-year wait for the Messiah has ended, and now in just these three short years of Jesus’ ministry, He is saying that He is going to be crucified!

The quiet, unassuming man that the people were flocking to hear, who teaches just one commandment, who heals people even raises them from the dead, who reaches out to everybody in love whether Jew or Gentile, is saying to those closest to him that he is going to be killed.  Preposterous!

But Jesus knew and now it was time to demonstrate who he was in a way that others would see and marvel.  The best time was a holiday, Passover, because everybody who was anybody was in Jerusalem for the festival.  The timing is now!

In the NLT Study Notes of the chronological Bible, the story is presented in parallel, also.  After telling the disciples what is to happen, another twist to the story is developing also included in Mark 14:1-2:

“But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”

The study note for verse 2 reads:

The Jews were preparing to observe Passover, a time of remembrance for families to celebrate when the blood of lambs had saved their ancestors.  But some of the religious leaders had another agenda.  Jesus had disrupted their security, revealed their sham, and opposed their authority.  Now they would put him away.  But the world is controlled by our all-wise God, not puny politicians.  God would turn the religious leaders’ murder plot into the greatest blessing that mankind would ever know.  Another Lamb would be slain, and his blood would save all people.  When grief or disaster seem to be dominating, remember that your life is in God’s hands and remember what Jesus did for you. (Emphasis added, p. 1453)

When we are suffering, when we face our challenges, we must remember that God is with us.  He never gives us more than we can handle; and today we know evil lurks all around us, even within our closest ring of family and friends.

Scripture II:  Luke 23:26-38

26 As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene,[b] happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women. 28 But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ 30 People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’[c] 31 For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?[d]

32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull,[e] they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.

34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”[f] And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.[g]

35 The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. 37 They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Sermon:  . . . and Now This?

Part B

            Yes, the story continues and includes evil and treachery.  Jesus is betrayed, arrested, tried, and sentenced to death.  The story seems so short after such a long wait.  How could this be?  For four hundred years we waited to see the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy, not to mention the 2,000+ years before Malachi.  The stories told through the generation could not end like this.

Yet, woven into the prophecies of the Old Testament is the foreshadowing of the Messiah’s life.  The prediction of betrayal, the prediction of death, and the prediction of defeating death are also in the prophecies, but those stories are not surfacing in the excitement Jesus’ work the past three years.  And then there is the holiday—Passover.

Unfortunately the story continues right through a trial, on through the horrible journey to the Golgotha, the blood dripping from His brow, the nailing of his hands to the cross—even his feet.  The long 400-year wait is coming to an end like this?  How can this story end like this?

The story does continue, the death on the cross is not the end of the story; it is the beginning of the new life.  Returning to Luke, let’s hear more of the story:

The Death of Jesus

44 By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 45 The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. 46 Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”[h] And with those words he breathed his last.

47 When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.” 48 And when all the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow.[k] 49 But Jesus’ friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching.

For 400 hundred years, the Jewish people waited.  What they expected was a powerful display of power, possibly wars fought, possibly a coronation, but now this!  This crucifixion is not the ending to the reign of a king, it is the lowest form of punishment for petty criminals.  Is this the way the story ends?  No.

Scripture III:  Luke 23:50-24:8

The Burial of Jesus

50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, 51 but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. 52 He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took the body down from the cross and wrapped it in a long sheet of linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb that had been carved out of rock. 54 This was done late on Friday afternoon, the day of preparation,[l] as the Sabbath was about to begin.

55 As his body was taken away, the women from Galilee followed and saw the tomb where his body was placed. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body. But by the time they were finished the Sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law.

The Resurrection

24 But very early on Sunday morning[m] the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man[n] must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

We acknowledge Jesus as the son of man, but more importantly the Son of God.  The story continues even if the son of man is dead because it is the Son of God who lives.  What lurks ahead is yet unknown.  What happens during our week may be planned, but nothing guarantees that it will go, as we want it to go.  God is in charge.  If Jesus can trust God, then we can, too.  The end result is the gift of eternal life with God.  And that is the story that never ends, it is why we come together to celebrate the life of Jesus Christ this Easter morning.

Dear God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

We celebrate the gift of Your Son today. 

We acknowledge His work during those short three years.

As we share in the warmth of our Christian family,

     help us to strengthen our resolve to love one another.

As we face daily challenges at home, at work, or at play

     help us to identify evil and turn away from its clutch.

As we look into the faces of family, friends, co-workers,

          and strangers, help us to see You.

 As we offer food, clothing, shelter, and love to those in need,

     let the world see what a difference Your grace makes

     and how loving one another transforms lives.  –Amen

 

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