Archive for February, 2020
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder’; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first, be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right-hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. “It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes’ or “No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one. [NRSA]
More than just the top 10
“Well, I haven’t murdered anyone.” Cut me some slack..
Jesus is speaking about Sin. It’s not just saying bad words, it’s thinking the worst, thinking ill of someone or even yourself, it is not thinking of your selfishness when pointing out the flaws of others, it is not just behavior of infidelity, it includes the thought of infidelity. We don’t stand a chance!?
Fans of Romans Chapter 6:1, What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? , well if I’m getting the penalty for thinking wrong, then I ought to get to taste it fruit of my sins.
Matthew’s Gospel is directed to those who knew a lifetime of keeping the law and following the statutes of the temple priests, judges, Pharisees, and Sadducees. The bottom line is Sin is not about cutting corners, getting by, getting around the rules, it is more than the ten commandments.
• Sin is real.
• Sin is easier than we make it out to be.
• Sin is something we all struggle to overcome.
Even if we narrowed the task to follow the teaching of Jesus
• We don’t love our enemies.
• we don’t feed or clothe all those who are in poverty.
• we don’t put others ahead of us all the time.
• we don’t always turn the other cheek.
• we don’t sell all that we have and follow Jesus..
Revisit the meaning of SIN.
Sin is that which we do, think or allow to occur that moves us or others away from the heart of God.
Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
Disciple Study Question
There was fellow several congregations ago, in a Disciples Bible Study class, declared,
• “God has it out for us.
• It’s too hard to keep all the laws, rules and parables.
• We are set up to fail!”
• So there is no use trying to be good.
• We need to give up on being righteous!
• We are just fooling ourselves.
• “I give up! Why even try?”
The answer is not what we expect. Just as Jesus tells in plainly, let your words be simple, direct and true. Give a yes or a no. The truth is that without Jesus we don’t stand a chance.
But we try to get around it or ignore it:
“My attorney advised me to say, I have no recollection of the events that occurred on that date and of the words I might or might not have said.”
“I don’t know who broke the vase in the living room, we know how you told us not to play in the house.”
“Let’s Make Deal”
We have a habit of the sin exchange
Here is the deal:” I won’t call you out so that you don’t call me out.” In our text today, Matthew recounts Jesus calling us all out!
There is where we need to hear the Good News Part!
Sin is so unmanageable that we MUST trust the grace of Jesus Christ to be our strength.
Our only hope is to trust the loving grace Jesus has for us and to place our faith completely in him.
Not as an excuse to keep sinning and wait until the end for the clean slate deal,
One church I served painted the “Sarum Prayer” around the wall at the edge of the ceiling and read the prayer in worship every week. It is an old pray. 13th century, but a mighty and powerful prayer:
God be in my head, and in my understanding;
God be in mine eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at mine end, and at my departing.
I offer some Contemporary Alternatives or Additions…
God be on my phone, and in my texting; God be in my car, and in my traveling; God be in my dreaming, and in my doing; God be in my face, and in my resting; God be in my gut, and in my striving.
God be in my home, and in my workplace; God be in my habits, and in my adventures; God be in my worries, and in my celebrations; God be in my to-do list, and in my procrastination list; God be in my success, and in my failures.
God be in my days, and in my nights; God be in my rest, and in my labors;
God be in my fear, and in my witness; God be in my words, and in my thinking. God be in my loosing, and in my winning.
God be in my boldness, and in my silence; God be in my troubles, and in my times of ease; God be in my attitude, and in my responses; God be in my duty, and in my leisure; God be in my going out, and my coming home.
Or another Hymn to sing and remind of our need for Christ: Learn it and sing it:
“I Need Thee Every Hour”, by Annie Hawks
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 397
I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
no tender voice like thine can peace afford.
I need thee, O I need thee; every hour I need thee; O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.
This hymn by Annie Sherwood Hawks (1835-1918) reflects the same general characteristics as those of the other four 19th-century women hymn writers discussed during Lent. The women all employ first-person accounts that grow our deep personal piety, resulting in a language of intimacy between the singer and the Savior. A New York native, Hawks displayed a gift for verse at the early age of 14, contributing poems on a regular basis to a variety of newspapers. Though she composed over 400 hymn texts, “I Need Thee Every Hour” is the only hymn of hers that is still sung today.
Following her marriage to Charles Hawks in 1859, much of Hawks’ life centered on the domestic aspects of rearing three children. She was a member of Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Dr. Robert Lowry, a prominent writer of gospel songs, was her pastor. Lowry encouraged the gift that he saw in Hawks’ poetry.
The point of Jesus teaching disciples how slippery and familiar sin in our lives, it the overwhelming readiness Christ has to plainly and simply be our salvation, our hope, and our renewal.
The final words I leave for us to remember are from Luke 18:13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
It is in the loving mercy that we stand. Will you join me in the arms of Christ? Amen!!
And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. [NRSA]
• We are servants in God’s field
• We are called to work together – some planting, some watering, some fertilizing, some harvesting
• We are the instruments of God’s building.
As you know one of my priorities has been to keep our congregation as informed about the denomination status and issues. Sometimes this is helpful and at other times we only commiserate in frustration of what we don’t know and what we can’t control. Your Administrative Council is becoming more informed and studying the issues that we will be facing in the months ahead so that nothing comes as a surprise. So look forward to the fruit of their work, conference and district ‘town hall meetings’ and the ongoing prayerful challenge we share to be the body Christ at Rock Spring.
With that reminder, I offer this passage this morning for our encouragement:
The Apostle Paul writes to encourage the church at Corinth, Greece that is faced with many divisions with it this lesson that we are blessed to have in our day.
Early in his letter, he reminds the church: (1Cor2.14-16) The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
1. Spiritual matters are foolish to those who not following the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, do not be worn out by those who think our faithfulness is foolish in their opinion and in their understanding.
2. Paul reminds that “We are servants in God’s field”
a. This is a two-part reminder. First, in following Christ, we are servants and followers.
b. Second, our scope of responsibility is to God and not to the world’s foolishness.
3. Third, we are called to work together with one another, IN the Holy Spirit.
a. THIS IS the point of reflection for today for us. When we are not working together, it becomes clear
b. That we are not working in the Spirit
c. We are not working in God’s field, or scope, or arena
d. Recall from (Gen 11:4) Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
i. The Tower of Babel is the landmark case of God scattering the work when people put themselves head of God’s plan, God’s scope, God’s field of work.
e. Paul calls out those who have been baptized by one Leader or the other, and the alliances that follow as one teach being right and the other being wrong.
i. Paul says earlier: “I’m glad I baptized none of you so you don’t drag me into this mess.”
f. POINT: When we who are in the one Spirit, share the ONE mind of Christ, Working together in the same field for God, Though we may have different gifts, talents, and skills, share the same work that should be united in God and not dividing God’s people, not dividing God’s witness, not dividing God’s work.
The fact that the church is in the process of division and divorces is self-affirmation that we are out of bounds.
4. Notice: Unity is not that we all agree on the same word, it is we are all doing what is in God’s best interest and not our own.
a. Said another way, the goal is not a unity of what’s in our Book of Disciplines, rather UNIFIED in serving God.
The Course Correction
So what difference is this all to us. Are we not just the victims of the politics of others? No, we are all parts of the same body. Different parts and members but with the same mind of Christ.
When we are divided into Christ’s name, it becomes clear that we are NOT operating with the same mind of Christ.
Just as with the fig tree
(Luke 13: 6-9) Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”
The purpose of a fig tree: to bear leaves or figs?
The purpose of the church is to bear fruit for the kingdom:
• When we say, well it would be better if this fig tree could bear blackberries AND figs. Foolishness
• When we say, let’ just find something else to eat if the figs aren’t in our season. Foolishness
• When we say, I don’t like figs anyway, who cares.
• We have the task of making disciples of Jesus Christ, not agreeing in politics.
• We have the calling of showing the world how to work together as SERVANTS, not as those being served or pleased or approved. We have that covered in the grace of Jesus Christ.
Paul writes for us and the church in Corinth:
• Serve God not ourselves
• God’s field not our own
• Our unity of trust in God is our witness to a world who calls us foolish
• God is bearing figs not politics, not agendas, not policies, not opinion polls, not ideologies.
Lord, I am your fig, the fruit of your blessing and grace.
If am I posing as a fig but am actually something else, have mercy on me a sinner, nurture and fertilized me another season of your grace.
May I do the part for your church that You have called and created, that you have died and been raised, that you have loved and infused me with your blessings, become your fig for a world of fools who are hungry for you. Amen.
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. [NRSA]
Jesus Moves Toward Us
In the 21st century world things progress more rapidly that we can comprehend. In the field of technology there is the suggested Mohr’s law that progress changes exponentially every two years. But we are quickly approaching a subatomic limitation for our devices and machines to get any faster or any smaller. With switches in microprocessors approaching single digit nanometer we assume that there is a finite limitation that will halt progress. But as with every unimaginable breakthrough comes the new medium and new energy source that turns the old technology on its head and we are seeing a near endless progression in the advancement of things.
The new Apple Mac Computer, fully loaded from the factory comes in at $54K if you add the keyboard and mouse that are not included. And on the day of its delivery to customers there are much faster and much cheaper machines being sold. All this chaotic pace of change is to ask an old fashioned question.
Is it necessary or even helpful to apply the model of progress, change, advancement and efficiency to the words, concepts and power of our faith?
People have been finding their way to the very heart of God through Jesus Christ for over 2000 years. Did it take the followers back then any longer to give their hearts to Christ?
Did it require any special technology to have find access to the teaching of Jesus?
Did it call for specialized agents, teachers, and tools to feed the sick, give drink to the thirst, befriend the forgotten, care for the widow, orphan, and stranger?
Did the words of Jesus hold less power then than they do know for all our advancement in biblical study and theological reflections?
Does Context Matter?
I would say in the past 35 years of my theological study, 8 years spent in direct research and study at seminaries, hundreds bible studies, over 3,600 sermons prepared and delivered, I would say a great deal of influence from the academic world has pressed hard for preachers to understand, appreciate and value the fluid contexts in which we serve and work. But I have begun to question part of this teaching.
What does it mean for Jesus, the son of God, Jesus the Christ, God who empties himself of his immortality, his omniscience, his omnipotence, his multidimensional comfort in the realms of heaven and be born, go through puberty, deal with family and community, be confronted with institutions, religions, authorities and powers physical and spiritual so that we could see and know God more clearly?
It means that God values us, you and me, and everyone out ‘there’ enough to enter our context, so that we could know God’s context in our lives.
I believe we have had a great deal backwards. We are not called to soften, entertain, or make God’s call, expectations and invitation any less or any different now than when, he first revealed himself.
But we live in a world of Thomas-es who want to touch, see, feel, experience for ourselves. We don’t want to take someone else’s word, especially if it is old, outdated, and not in our own context.
That is somewhat like saying if only Jesus were Chocolate-chip-mint Ice cream. That is my favorite flavor and if God would see fit ‘himself’ into my container, context, understanding, limitations, then I would be more likely to believe or trust.
So while it is vital for Jesus to come to our Context, God has no need to be as fickle and flexible as our attention deficiencies.
We are comfortable in our Slavery
Slavery: There are people who are treated as slaves in this world.. not because of the color of their skin, but for a lack of education, power, influence, and a disbelief that slavery exists in our context.
Workers who make pennies a day, make it possible for so many of our products to be inexpensive deals. The next time we purchase something think about the salary, working conditions and benefits you would want to receive for making those items and remember the bulk of the profits are in transportation, stockholders, taxes and tariffs.
China workers, Africans working in African for Chinese government funded projects. Labor given to build infrastructure in lands that are not part of China, but are taken advantage.
We are being made slaves of political division.
Women and girls in human trafficking.
We are called to be free from slavery. We are called to set the captive free. We are called to celebrate liberty in every nation.
Our question for Context and many forms of Slavery, are no Match for..
The Power of Fear
God come to show us his heart and word. He gives us the power of the Spirit and the gift of Salvation through his sacrifice so that none of us live in fear.
And yet.. we all know some fear.
Fear of death and dying.. Even though we know that God has made a way to him and fear is no longer and end, but rather a doorway closer.
Fear of a new place, a new school, a new job or home.
Or fear of no place, no job or no home.
Fear that what we have known to be safe and dependable is being shaken and changed,
Or a fear of having to replace comfort with confirmation of our faith and trust in Christ.
I know that my grandmother feared the day they would close her church, Wesley Chapel, the fourth church on a charge of churches in the South Georgia conference of the UMC. She saw the number drop from over a hundred, to the twenties, to 12, to 9, and at the point it was three, despite paying the apportionments and salary portion herself, she felt like it was her responsibility to keep the doors open. But that is just the thing. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for us to keep the doors unlocked, he lives in us so that we will walk through those doors and make disciples of the world who find their home in Christ just as we have done.
The Fear we face this year: Are we upholding memories or upholding the folks who don’t know they are sinners like us, who want church to be their convenient favorite flavor and song and style,
So What Are We To Do?
The heart of this passage asking us to show by our trust and faithfulness. Are we fans of evil that is comfortable, easy and popular or are we committed to a more difficult path?
Are we here to be served, taken care of and made to feel safe from a world that has little respect of hope for us?
Are we here to be witness of fear, timid-ness, and doubt or
Are we the those whom Christ has called, challenged, empowered and standing strong as we go into the world for the sake of Jesus Christ?
I say any other choice is our defeat.
Hold up this measuring rod for one another: Am I being tested in my faith? In my witness? In my service? If so, we have to encourage one another and not divide one another
If not, we are call to receive Christ anew, to hear his call, to claim and reclaim the challenge, and to be steadfast in God’s work through us.
Alone I will fail, Together in Christ we can endure all things. Be strong in prayer, strong in worship, strong in loving and forgiving, strong with encouragement, strong in listening and studying God’s word. Strong in singing and being the presence of Christ right now.
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]
• Jesus calls disciples
• Jesus calls followers
• Jesus calls for everyone who follows to become a disciple.
• Jesus calls everyone who follows a higher standard of actions and attitudes.
The most famous part of the sermon is the “Blessed” section.
What is the designation of being blessed?
In the context of the teaching, Jesus is making self declarative statements.
That is, the seal of approval is given through the attitude behind the action of goodness.
1. The poor in spirit, receive the kingdom of heaven.
2. Those who mourn will receive comfort.
3. The meek will be given the world.
4. Those who long for what is right will be fulfilled.
5. Those who show mercy will receive mercy.
6. The pure of heart see the heart of God.
7. Those who make peace, are God’s children.
8. Those who are persecuted for the work of Christ find heaven.
9. The summary blessing is for those to remain true to God when the world calls them evil.
10. The summary is that followers and disciples of Jesus need to count on being persecuted for their faithfulness.
If we are not confronting evil we are complacent. LORD HAVE MERCY ON OUR WEAKNESS!
If we are keeping quiet about our faith, then we are missing out on the blessing of our faith.
• In every world religion, there is some challenge for people to be kind, compassionate, good-hearted, caring people, to at least those who belong to that group.
• In every world religion, there are affirmations of caring for the widow, the orphan and the poor.
• In every world religion, there are teachings to live with devotion to the god of their worship.
• What is different in Jesus’s teaching?
If we look at this list as more than general suggestions, but not just a checklist, we hear Jesus teaching a way of thinking, a perspective of living and behaving that draws us TOWARD GOD, THROUGH our RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS.
ATTITUDES as BEHAVIORS as a WAY OF LIFE
Every blessing comes when we live out the ideas in our heads and hearts through the lives of other people.
• The poor in spirit: Those who know they don’t know it all, might have room to grow, mature and journey more.
• Those who mourn: Those who open their eyes to the things that are broken and can weep with those who hurt.
• The meek: Those who don’t seek the things of this world as their salvation, know salvation comes through Jesus.
• Those who long for righteousness: Those who seek God’s way over their own way.
• Those who show mercy: Those who can live their faith AND be kind, compassionate in the process.
• The pure of heart: Know their best self by trusting God’s vision of their life and motives.
• Those who make peace: We are God’s children when we trust our heavenly father’s justice, judgment & grace.
• Those persecuted for Christ: We cannot withstand persecution unless God stands with us, that is heaven/garden
• Those who are steadfast: When the world calls our actions and thoughts evil, are a good measure of doing good.
• Those being persecuted for their faithfulness to God is living out our heaven citizenship over our earthly one.
The Hard Part
Here is the worst part of the list: It’s not a cafeteria, pick-and-choose, list to select from at our pleasure.
It is an all-inclusive list. The blessing of the buffet is ours, but we are to work on the whole menu.
Blessing as a measure of being on the right track is seen in each lane.
Blessing of our work is completed comes when we wear every hat in the officer’s handbook. (Not just church leadership roles)
The picture Jesus gives is not for us to focus on one area and stay in that lane, rather drive on the interstate on the highway to heaven. The goodness is that the same attitude behind our motives is the same attitude:
Philippians 2:2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
One love, one spirit, one mind
Deuteronomy 6:5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
• If we can comfort those who mourn, we can all so feed those who know their hunger for more of Christ.
• If we can endure showing grace and compassion, we can endure being ridiculed and judged by the world.
• If we can long for truth and righteousness, we can also be pure in our motives and grace-filled in our service.
THE BOTTOM LINE
• You and I are followers and disciples of Jesus today.
• We are blessed with many things in this world, but God has a greater blessing than all the stuff, money and power.
• We are blessed with relationships, but these relations are empty if they are lacking the sharing of our faith.
We are blessed with opportunities that only a few have in the world, and to not use what we have for God is to waist our heavenly inheritance, in the present.
• TRUE BLESSING comes from God, for bringing to life the ideas and teachings that come from God.
• TRUE BLESSING comes not from the world’s list of value, but in the value of being God’s hands and feet.
• TRUE BLESSING comes when we move from HEARING the Word and BECOME the Word for the World.
The SO WHAT?
We know this, why are telling us what we already know?
Because part of our job is to hold the mirror of accountability that reflects God and ask:
1. Are people being spiritually fed through my actions and words? What can I do then?
2. Do people turn to me when there are hurting, sad, disappointed or grieving? What should I do?
3. Do people around me know God’s kingdom is my priority or the world’s priority?
4. Do people see and hear God’s word through my daily life?
5. Do people see that I am kind/compassionate or do present a grumpy, judgmental, too busy advertisement?
6. What do people see about God’s heart through me?
7. Do people trust me to bring people together or do they trust me to take sides and defend?
8. When was the last time I was persecuted, judged or penalized for expressing my faith? Am I overdue?
9. When it is easier to going along with the crowd even though I know it’s not right or not best, I roll with the tide?
10. People know I will put God first, over all else. Except for game day, family, money, career, or something else?
WHEN OUR ALL OUR ACTIONS AND THOUGHTS REFLECT GOD, JESUS, HOLY SPIRIT
Our work is done, in the meantime, we have much to work on, and MUCH to work with because in Jesus’s teachings we are promised the world, mercy, heart, family, heaven, goodness, faithfulness, comfort, Jesus, Spirit, and God himself.
This familiar list of attitudes is a reminder, a measure and a wake-up call to look at our head, our heart and our actions and ask: Can I see God? Can others see God? If so, I have great news to praise and share. If not, Lord let’s get work today.