Archive for February, 2014
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. [NRSV]
John Wesley explained how God works in our lives in what he called the ‘order of salvation.’ This order begins with God at work prior to our awareness.
For example Christ was born, lived, died and rose long before we had anything to do with this ultimate gift of God’s grace. Our belief or unbelief does not change its power or purpose.
Long before we come to a point of accepting Jesus Christ with our minds and understanding, we are surrounded by the community of faith in the church, specific individuals of faith, differing actions and witness of service worship and witness. All these together shape our understanding and our experience of belief and ‘accepting’ Christ our selves.
This period of preliminary work of God through our experience is called ‘prevenient grace’ or preventative grace. God working good through the holy spirit before we know what is going on around us. This is the most compelling reason to come to church. This is the most compelling reason to be here for the witness and strengthening of others in the faith. Your being present, your singing, your prayers, your Christian fellowship, your studying, your serving and sharing is how we teach on multiple levels our faith and belief.
This is not just for the children. It is for us all, at all ages and stages of our lives. I would suggest that members like our Reba’s, Elizabeth’s, Roberts, Cottons and others of our older members are as hungry for the presence of the whole church as our children run eagerly up for children’s time. We need the preventative work of God’s good working in all we do.
The second stage of salvation is when we ‘get it.’ When we have that first moment of the stories of faith connecting with our experience and we “see the light”, “we know Christ died and lives for us.” We might say the words for years, but when we recognize that Christ didn’t just live, die and return for everyone, but for us in particular.. then Wesley calls that moment: Justifying Grace.
There are times when our lives are so busy, weary, confusing and stressed that we know the right answers be we loose the connection that God is working in us. For those who find themselves digitally connected on a daily basis, isn’t at the worst moments that the internet connection goes off line. You are right in the middle of something important, and zap. You are disconnected. The information is out there but you are not connected.
The same thing happens in our way of salvation. We know that justifying work that God has done for us, but we loose the connection. So getting reconnected and trying to stay connected Wesley calls SANCTIFYING Grace.
We don’t use the word SANCTIFY very often. But we do things that help keep or store the connection of faith.
The room we have gathering in to worship is the SANCTUARY. Even though it is large and may have different activities, it is set apart as a holy space. We will not be playing basketball today. We will not be eating dinner in this room. We have dedicated this as a safe and dependable place to find God with us.
We sing praises and hymns/songs. We praise and ask through our prayers. We are joyful and tearful in this place. We celebrate baptisms and communion. We celebrate marriage and funerals in this place. We gather as sinners and call ourselves saints in this room. Because this is the SANCTUARY; this is the place we connect with the Holy.
But this is not the only place or time to connect with God. Wherever two or more are gathered in God’s name, God is there. Where we clothe the cold, feed the hungry, reach out to the lost, remember the forgotten, and find ourselves persecuted for doing Godly good.. These actions are SANCTIFYING actions.
God’s is working through our study, praying, fasting, serving and witnessing to keep us connected to God. When we are working in these ways we experience SANCTIFYING grace.
But we are not always doing these things. We have other responsibilities. We have rest and recreation. We have times that we are sick and broken. Where is God in these times?
For many we spend a great deal of our lives in the PREVIENT grace mode. When we want to take vacation from responsibility; God is willing to carry us. That is the promise of God’s love.
I remember learning about Greater-Than and Less-than in the second grade. I didn’t get it. I was use to having a big smiley face on all my work but this paper had an “F”. My first failing grade. The teacher called me to her desk and asked me why I was crying. I handed her the paper. I had missed ever single problem. None of them were correct. Everyone was wrong. My “F” was a big fat zero.
The teacher had the same ah-ha moment I did. We both realized that I understood the concept of > and <. I just had the symbols backwards. We both said, “Why didn’t I realize that at the time?” She let me retake the test. I got them all correct. Perfection!
There are times that we get things right. We do good and we find that warm spirit in our hearts. We feel connected and loved. We see and understand. These moments, John Wesley called, Perfecting Grace. We don’t stay in these moments. For a variety of reasons, but these are the cherished examples of what it is like we are close to God and God is close to us.
For most folks, these times are too far in between. The reality is that most folks operate on a daily basis between PREVIENT Grace and JUSTIFYING Grace. This is some where between letting God work for us and our mental affirmation of God at work. And we wonder where is God?
Finding the perfect relationship takes practice. Faith is not a one-time contract. Perfection is a relationship of wholeness. We have to practice putting the pieces together until the stay together for longer than a few minutes.
The Christmas puzzle: We put out a holiday puzzle that family members stop now and then to find the edges, work on recognizable patterns. Little by little the progress is seen over time. And then, with about fifty of the five hundred piece left there is a collective dash to complete the prize. And it is done. There is generally a comment that we should get some ‘modge podge’ glue the work together. And it sits entact for a little while for everyone to admire, but in a matter of seconds the hours of work is undone and the pieces are divided and back in the box for another season.
The trick is finding how to become so familiar with the many pieces and the practice of putting them together that the complete work does not take as long. And so it is with the spiritual puzzle of our life in Christ. Perfection comes, but it is fleeting. Unless we stick to the practice of making wholeness our goal, our juggling of pieces of life are a diversion instead of a salvation.
Perfection: Not getting it right, but getting is together with God for long haul, eternity.
Our journey is fluid. We move back and forth with God. But the more we move beyond the idea of God into the relationship with God AND God’s people, the closer we walk with God most completely.
Have you seen the YouTube clip of the little boy sitting at a bus stop waiting to meet his teacher and class on a field trip. The weather is cold and certain a day for a heavy coat. This boy has not coat. The number of folks who sit with and interact with the boy and do not offer their coat is unbelievable. But those who do become connected beyond the mental affirmation of loving your neighbor and become actual neighbors to the boy.
The reason we gather for worship with regularity, come to Sunday school, eat a fellowship dinner, pray with our ceasing, study each day, feed and clothe those who have made poor choices or have had poor choice made for them… is because to share our lives each day is to share God each day.
The question implied in the text today is: If you have not showed God’s love today to someone who does not expect nor deserve it, then we ought not expect God to be found in our own lives. We have been loved. We know the way of salvation. We are on the journey.. are we closer, at a stand-still or lost ourselves?
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” 24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. [NRSV]
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become on flesh.
The covenant of marriage has its foundation in the actions of creation.
In the retelling of the creation story is the formation of the marriage relationship. As for context, it is important that we see that God is the author of marriage. At its formation it is instituted by God.
Marriage is about mutual helping. It is sharing our core, our bodies, and our lives as a covenant of relationship.
1. God is author of marriage, not you or me. Not government nor Brides by Lori.
Marriage is not natural. It is spiritual.
Some might misunderstand this statement and think it is a joke about fidelity or trivial jab at commitment. But if marriage were the product of nature then cows, bears and manatee would get married.
It is rare but there are indeed some pidgins that mate with one partner for life. But mating is not the only, and not even the first purpose of marriage
The covenant of marriage establishes a relationship of mutual help. This is the need that marriage fulfills. The relationship we honor today is built upon celebration the intent of helping one another.
Our take away is that God intended marriage to be a sign of God’s work. And a witness of encouragement and support.
Marriage is a creative process
God works, from the start, to provide a relationship of helping, support and companionship
The teaching about marriage relationship is in context of creation.. We need more than our self , we need some help..
Marriage is about leaving and joining, letting go and holding on.
And then we get to the good part. Leaving: The relationship of marriage is the creation of a new family and requires letting go and than grabbing hold of the new creation.
At a cellular level and at an atomic level, God’s creative order reflects letting go of atoms which react with other compounds to create something new that is totally different from the individual parts on their own.
As important as marriage is in creation, I invite you to spin ahead a few eons to Jesus. His parents, engaged but not married find themselves with child. A child who is the ultimate reflection of God’s love and help. A child who becomes an adult but never marries.
Marriage is not required, but if we enter into it, it is not a business contract, it is a covenant; it is a promise that God is present in holding together. God is there to help, heal, encourage, renew and bless.
We celebrate marriage today.
We honor and bless the covenant of marriage. Out of which come folks like us. We recognize that not every marriage is successful. Even with God’s presence and connection, we can break the bonds. God does not force love upon us. Grace always wins out.
As men and women, we are created for one another. We can find help, support, encouragement and love from our partner and spouse. Some time we find help we don’t want. That might be God speaking to us.
Some times we don’t find the support we hoped for. Some time marriage partners undermine the partnership and the relationship becomes divisive. God gives us room to mess up. That distance gives space for a relationship that is genuine and real and grace-filled, love.
We honor those who entered into convenient that resulted in us being here today!
We honor those who enter into marriage and are faithful
We acknowledge that some marriage relationship become so broken that grace is stretched beyond recognition. We give praise that even in brokenness God can restore us as individuals.
We honor that while marriage is a blessing it is not required to be a whole person as witnessed in Jesus.
We ask God’s bless on all who marry to make that union strong, fruitful and filled with God grace and love.
We offer a witness to one another and to our community through our radical hospitality, that Christain marriage is alive and well.
God’s is with us in this journey of life and marriage is power witness of God’s love, present to help us.
<Renewal of vows and acknowledgment of grief and brokenness>
Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. [NRSV]
It strikes me as funny in this teaching by God through the prophet, Isaiah, to envision the people of God as restorers of the streets. You know the jokes and wise cracks about how many DOT workers does it take to dig a hole? Answer: one, but it takes a half dozen or more to watch them do it.
In a nutshell, the prophet is saying that our society as people of faith is so broken that we can’t afford to stand by and watch because there are too many pot-holes for people to fall into as it is.
In this passage we hear God’s steaming temper and over-whelming frustration. God has fired up and has Isaiah on full alert:
The Kitchen Sink Too!
God says to the prophet, Isaiah, Don’t hold back anything. Blast out the news like a trumpet.
Describe in every detail my people’s rebellion and sins.
This makes for a good story. There is a lot of drama and passion in this story. And its good to hear God all fired up at those delinquents way back then in stead of talking about us.. am I right?
The Message Bearer
The prophet has the task of telling the truth, the whole truth.
Isaiah is part of a long tradition of those who are charged with telling folks what is generally bad news. Imagine interviewing for that job! Argg. This time God is calling on Isaiah to let it all hang out! Give them the whole dose of medicine, even if it is bitter and vial.. it would only be compared to their sin.
God’s Frustration is not an absence of Love
If God didn’t care, God would not have prophets to warn and instruct.
God would just blow us away like dust in the desert and start over.
Hear are God’s lines in the sand:
1. They ask for my help in prayers; they study my ways, BUT, they think knowing ABOUT their God replaces a relationship WITH God.
2. The Role of Spiritual Disciplines
they ask of me righteous judgments, they want me close by in times of trouble,
But they ask, “Why do we fast?” Why do we have to go to church? Why do have to give? Serve? Witness?
Why do we humble ourselves?
Fasting as a Spiritual Practice
At the core it is the denial of a basic physical necessity to make time and awareness for the necessity of basic spiritual food.
It is a practice not a contract. We are not due because what we have done. Take care of me because I built your place of worship! No, instead it is the activity of giving up what I want physically for what I need spiritually.
Calling a Sin, a Sin.
Isaiah is not so much teaching about Fasting but what’s going on in the presence of religious practice.
• You talk a good game in the worship house, but you treat people with disrespect.
• You bend the rules to suit your own pleasures and justification.
• You fight with fist and tongue, while you are worshiping and serving.
What Does God Require?
• Do you think I need people to bow down before me like the grass
• Do you think I need to see ashes on your head or your Sunday best?
• Who let you decided what is acceptable to the Lord?
Here what I want to see PRONTO
• Seek what is fair; Change systems and structures that keep people down.
• Free people of to be independent, God created us as free, individuals.
• Set people free to who are addicted, entrapped, alone, afraid, oppressed.
• Break the attitudes that manipulate people.
• Feed the hungry,
• Open your home to the homeless
• Clothe the naked,
• Encourage God’s people instead of cutting them down or holding them back.
How to Get God’s Attention?
Do the Right things and God will reward your righteousness.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Benefits of Righteousness
The LORD will guide you continually,
• satisfy your needs in parched places,
• make your bones strong;
• you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
• Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
• you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
• you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
• the restorer of streets to live in.
Matthew 5: 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [NRSV]
Are you blessed? Look at the blessing side of these equations:
- Citizenship in Heaven
- Comforted here and now.
- Inheritors of the earth
- Filled with Satisfaction
- Swimming in Mercy
- Able to see God’s presence
- Known to be God’s child
- Have a place in heaven
- Heavenly Reward Waiting
Character Traits of the faithful
- Poor in spirit, Mourning, Meek
- Righteousness Seekers, Mercy, Seekers of God’s heart
- Makers of peace; Teased, Taunted, Tested and Tormented for doing what is Godly.
Jesus begins his teaching ministry to the crowds with instructions that define the measurable, witness-able, tangible descriptors of those who ‘get it’, those who would be followers, disciples, Christians.
Look Around you today
Are you surrounding by the blessed or cursed? Honestly we are some of both, some of the time. This is why we continually repent, pray for forgiveness, and seek to live a new the new life we celebrate in Holy Communion.
We come to the table because we have turned the other way.
Jesus begins be giving us a measuring stick of identify and path toward citizenship.
Forgive me, for I have sinned.
- Forgive me, for I have acted like I knew better than God and other Godly saints.
- Forgive me, for I have forgotten that you gave your son for my life. I forgot what that feels like.
- Forgive me, for I have stopped growing my spiritual relationship.
- Forgive me, for I have taken your grace, but not shown it to others.
- Forgive me, for I have not had pure thoughts, motives, actions and words.
- Forgive me, for I have not tried to make peace and even stirred up trouble myself.
- Forgive me, for I have persecuted others because they were different.
- Forgive me, for I have said and done all kinds of evil that does not reflect your presence in my heart and life.
- Forgive me, for I have forgotten your Joy and misplaced your Gladness and Love.
Jesus words start as descriptors for Disciples and become daggers of conviction when we have not stayed on the path of Blessing.
An Opposing View
- Cursed are those who are full-of-themselves
- Cursed are those who stoic, selfish, and prideful,
- Cursed are those who know better than the rest of us
- Cursed are those who know better than God
- Cursed are those who judge with a log in their own eye
- Cursed are those who see only their wants and vision
- Cursed are those who to quiet to stop injustice or too loud in self-preservation
- Cursed are those who to sacred to be bold for God
The attitudes of Matthew 5.1-12 are the called such as they begin in our hearts and minds and then affect our actions and environment.
If our task is to make disciples of others for the transformation of the world, it begins by ‘checking’ our attitude to see if our heart and minds are God before we move to words and deeds.
Have someone ask you these questions this week and answer them honestly:
- Am I always right?
- Where does pride blind me and hinder others?
- Who knows best how to live in relationship with others?
- Am I willing to change what is broken in my life?
- Am I willing to see and feel how others feel and see life? And me?
- Will I speak bolding for God today? Each day?
- What scares me? Why would I be afraid if God is captain of our team?
What’s at Stake? EVERYTHING
- Being Blessed or Curse.
- Being included or outside.
- Saved or Damned.
- Loved or hated
- Remembered or forgotten
- God’s or my Own.
What is God doing about it?
- Has given us Christ to follow
- Has given us Christ for our sin
- Has given us Christ for living
- Has given us The Spirit for power and guidance
- Has given us the Church for fellowship and encouragement
- Has given us Word to study, learn, grow and share
- Has given us Music to tell and share
- Has given us ministry to share and reach
- Has given us resources to build and invest
The question, Our Question:
“What am I doing about my attitude and my actions as child of God?”
Come to the Table and start fresh in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Come to the table and be filled, anew.