Posts Tagged Life
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ “ [NRSV]
Shootings, terror incidences, oppresses and abuses!! It feels as if each day brings terrible news of violence and tragedies. We either struggle to renew our claim to hope or add to the calluses built on the previous tsunamis of chaos and generations of apathy.
But from these witnesses of evil we look and hope for the good. We hear people ask:
- Is the racism of the systems that cause police to unjustly do their jobs or is it the lawlessness of thug culture to blame? Which is the evil and which is the good?
- Are we to blame drugs and alcohol, those who produce and traffic them, or those who use them for the death and mayhem associated with their abuse, or those who stand by and watch to only direct blame? Which is the evil and which is the good?
- Are those killed as victims of holy wars made especially righteous for their martyrdom or are they only casualties of evil. Where is the good? Are we safe? Are we Saved?
- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- Why do bad people seem to get away with anything?
- Why do the good die young?
- Did those faithful and innocent folks loose salvation because their deaths were tainted with the evil acts of an oppressive government? This question, like those above are put to Jesus for understanding:
A Question, An Answer. A Warning, and a Parable.
Jesus is asked a question. He gives a straightforward answer. He adds a warning and teaches with a parable.
- Is the life of a faithful person of more value than the life of a criminal?
- Is the life of a victim more important than the life of an oppressor?
- Is the life of an innocent person of more worth than the existence of a thug?
- Is the life of a politician worth less than a… well you know what I mean.
Jesus gives an answer:
Are you ready? The answer is.. No!
Not complicated, not filtered, not qualified, no need for interpretation. Just, No.
No the life of the innocent, the victim, the faithful one is no less valued to God than the life of the criminal, the oppressor, or the thug.
- Which leads to Jesus’s warning.
- Our salvation, value/existence are connected to our relationship with God in this life.
- WARNING: Worry about repenting more than blaming.
- Worry about grace instead of rules and laws
Focus on God instead of yourself or anything that leads you away from God.
Crazy Questions: This warning leads us to ask questions:
- Are the Jews Going to Heaven?
- Are the Muslim Lost?
- If someone has not been baptized are they saved?
Answer is not about words and thoughts as much as it is about actions
Jesus answers with a WARNING:
- Were they trying to live a life that leads to God?
- Can you look at their lives and see God at work in them?
- Were they working with the hope of finding God?
- Were they working to assure themselves an entrance ticket or a relationship with God?
- Was God an add-on to a host of things they did?
- Was God the reasons they woke up live and lied down to rest?
- Are you more worried about what you can’t control
- or more assured with what God CAN control?
The Warning: Don’t live or die without repenting.
REPENTANCE: Turning one’s life toward God’s heart.
- Repentance is not about the words we speak and the thoughts we think
- Repentance is the fruit of a searching heart
- Repentance is the evidence of our struggle toward God and overcoming evil.
- Repentance is active, observable and gives at witness to others and encouragement to ourselves.
The Parable: Jesus uses a time of worry, fear and evil as a time for faith and fruitfulness.
The Fig Tree
It should be cut down, but it is not, because the gardener has patience and grace
The prescription is for intentional work, nutritious effort and waiting for fruit.
The Goal is fruit
- The Process is Grace
- The Danger is to
- Not work
- Not Study, Struggle and Share
- To end up empty
- This is a day to work on the relationship
- This is a day to study, pray, serve, forgive, love, teach, question, grow
- This is a day to look for the presence of God bearing fruilt
- If there is not fruit, the get to work.
BECAUSE: No fruit waists the soil, wastes the trust, wastes the grace, wastes the time.
- The question is not about are we saved?
- The question is God’s presence obvious in my life, thought, words, and actions?
- The question is what am I waiting for, if not for God?
- Are the things and thoughts that consume me, bringing God closer to me and closer to God’s people, or not?
- If you don’t see the fruit, get to work, add some fellowship, worship, study and service and wait for God to work through God’s process.
Begin by the act of spiritual inventory:
Do I need to repent? Do I need God? Want God? Have I got it covered?
Ask your neighbor: Where do you see God at work in my life? Tell your neighbor the truth because their salvation weighs in the balance.
Or keep to yourself, mind your own business, assume the best and stay away from your enemies the best you can… that is not what Jesus said.
Jesus said, the harvest is coming, surly. Where’s fruit? (Where’s the beef? dated, ref)
-When we gather with one another at the funeral home or around the pews at times of shared grieving, we struggle for comfort and perspective and utter questions
-As each day grows closer to the November election, the shouts and rants of politicians and publicists point rear-view fingers of blame, current insults of shame, and future dreams of promise filled salvation for those on their side. Some are compelled to take sides, while others retreat into the camps of apathy and indifference.
We Told You So Acts 4:5-12
The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” [NRSV]
Cornerstone, Jesus is the
- Power from the Cornerstone
- Truth from the Cornerstone
- Salvation through the Cornerstone
Our Shepherd Knows Our Needs Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long. [NRSV]
The shepherd leads the sheep to what they need
- Daily Bread
- Daily Walk
- Daily Struggle with Evil
- Daily Worship
1 John 3:16-24 God Jumped In First
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. [NRSV]
Love is an active verb not just a cognitive affirmation
- Christ Acts Before We Do
- God Loves Frist
- Our Response to Grace and Love is Commitment
- We Obey because God Has Already Moved in to Help/Save
John 10:11-18 Listening and Hearing
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away–and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” [NRSV]
Listening and Hearing
- The shepherd and sheep listen for one another
- Listening because we can
- Listening because we have to
- Listening to see what we choose to hear
- Listening to be found by God
- Jesus has hardwired our connection
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them–though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. [NRSV]
My Task is to Remind You about Jesus
- Jesus wants a relationship with us, brothers and sisters, join heirs.
- God has been at work before you knew it or even claim it
- God’s Good News of Jesus Christ is the footings/foundation of our faith
- God’s Good News concerning our relationship through Jesus is to be shared
- God’s Good News is the witness of God’s actions of love and saving grace.
You can believe this Good News to be true in your head and miss the power of the relationship.
- A marriage certificate is not a marriage. I marriage is covenant shared with God.
- When I hear folks at a funeral say, “At least I hear him say he had given his heart to Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. So I don’t have to worry about his salvation.” I begin to worry about the salvation of the person making that statement.
- Jesus died and came back to life, raised from the dead, not to hear our words but to claim our heart and relationship.
- (Cartersville Pickup Truck Funeral: [tragic construction related death, two wives and a girl friend meet at the funeral home for the first time.] “At least we thought he was a church going man based on the bulletin in his bible.”)
Paul’s Caution #1 “if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain.
I want to show you a simple invitation: a 9 volt battery
Did you know in the National Fire Prevention Association reported last year that 47% of wired smoke alarms are non functioning, and 56% of battery only smoke alarms were non functioning.
Nearly 80% of those had missing or worn out batteries.
On average there are 120,000 deaths related to structural fires. The potential for 96,000 fewer deaths if we knew for sure, that the smoke detectors had working batteries.
When they called people and ask them, do you have a working smoke alarm with a new battery, 74% reported yes
When a random sample went to visit the same homes to check the battery charge level, only 45% had working batteries.
What is the difference between knowing the statistics and actually plugging into the power to have device that saves lives?
-It is the same difference between knowing about Jesus, and being plugged into the power of God’s Spirit, through Jesus.
How many people think the words and say the words, but have dead or missing batteries…
How many people know the stories and see the church, but respond negatively or with apathy, just ignore the news?
If you knew that most homes don’t have a working battery would you be willing to knock on someone’s door to offer them the potentially life saving gift of a 9 volt battery, and if they would allow you to plug it in, you would both know you had doubled the chance that no one in that home would die from a fire.
If you knew that most homes don’t have a working relationship with Jesus Christ, would you be willing to knock on someone’s door or heart, to offer them the TRULY eternal life saving gift of the Risen Lord who died for their sins, and if they would allow you to start a relationship of faith with them, you would both know you had a 100% CERTAINLY that their life would not end, even when their body dies.
Paul’s Main Point: Receive and Renew your understanding of what Jesus did on the cross and LIVE in the power of the resurrection starting NOW.
- GOD knows us:
- we forget,
- mess up,
- get in a jam,
- fall off the wagon,
- the dog eats our homework,
- the car breaks down,
- we loose our job,
- we forget to study,
- we miss the deadline,
- we get distracted
- and tempted…
- we sin, big ones and little ones,
- we drift or run..
God says to all that: I AM not focused on the blame.
- I give you JESUS, my child’s life to cover all the blame and brokenness.
- I don’t want to hear the excuses. (I want see the relationship)
- I want you to see the value of the gift and return to the table.
- I hope you will respond with appreciation/praise for the sacrifice, I your maker, have given you.
- God wants us to see the gift and respond because God loves and claims us first.
- God’s grace is not an after thought…
- along through the scriptures we see God continues to make covenants and we continue to break them.
- God is working with workers who don’t show up to work except on pay day.
- God exchanges the power of death, not just the death of one person, One died for all.
- God moves us past the death of this body, for a living relationship, not the life of one person, One lives for all.
This is what Easter message is about.
- It’s not just about Jesus,
- its about God’s eternal love and value for your life and relationship.
- its about God’s eternal love and value for our lives in relationship together.
- Remember the gift and passion God exchanges for us
- Re/Claim and know/grow in the power of God’s life for us.
So it’s important to remember: Where I see Jesus…
- I see Jesus in the work and pray of quilts
- I see Jesus going in a paper lunch bags shared with hungry
- I see Jesus in the support of small groups and classes caring and challenge growth
- I see Jesus in preventing death from illness like malaria
- I see Jesus in the middle of family crisis, when families feel they are at deadened/wall and see no hope, God opens lives, hearts and doors to find a way through the crisis into a new life, new relationships and new visions
- I see Jesus in the hands of working youth who did more than play at the beach, but opened their hearts to care for families who are hurting.
- I hear Jesus in your music and singing
- I hear Jesus in your questions, prayers and testimony
- I feel Jesus in your compassion and hospitality and generosity
- I taste Jesus around the table when we gather at his table
- He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today…. Tell the world, show the world, Jesus Christ lives in you and me. Amen.
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [NRSV]
One of the foundational keys of being United Methodist is faith in God’s Word, spoken and revealed through ordinary people. The people, lessons, foundations witness those who are willing to listen and share God’s Word.
We listen to scripture as God’s word through lenses and filters.
- Scripture is heard and experienced through the context of all those who have read, studied and listened in years past. We call this the voice of tradition or theology.
- Scripture is heard and reflected through the grey matter of reason. God has created each of us with a mind, powers of rational and logical thought. We call this voice of reason.
- Scripture is heard and conveyed through the presence of the God’s Spirit in our own spirit understanding as a spiritual being. We call this voice of experience.
The heart of Methodist living in the scriptures includes all three of these filters.
- For those who state that they read scripture literally, they are making assumptions that are based on using only a filter of tradition OR experience.
- For those who state that scripture is read only in contrast to science and mental reflection, they are only using one filter of reason.
- For those who state the interpretation is weighted by the church’s historical voice or even the church’s majority voice, they use only one filter of tradition.
- For those who state they reading as non-denominational, non-traditional, rather personally inspired alone, they ONLY draw on the voice of experience.
Each of these independent ways are good, but incomplete without all of them together. This complete view of scripture is at the heart of being Methodist. Keep this in heart, mind and spirit as we look, listen and share this mornings reading:
The message of the cross is foolish to those who:
- remember the cross only as a history lesson
- try to explain away the extreme of sacrifice or
- or are turned off by the gruesomeness of crucifixion
Remember it is through all these that the cross becomes a sign of power, love and victory.
Paul is talking to the folks at the churches in Corinth, but as part of the church now, Paul continues the power of tradition for us.
As a practical matter: Sharing our faith is something that we are called, commanded and empowered to do.
But not every attempt to do so is fruitful.
- We could talk about Jesus everywhere we go and most folks will just call us that crazy person that talks about Jesus all the time.
- We could think about Jesus and work out a great thoughts for our own understanding and no one would ever hear a thing, for all the work we have done.
- And We could wait for the moment that it felt right and connect only in an emotional way that is empty of spiritual power.
Consider doing all three, together.
For to only follow one method is foolish..
Take for example our financial stewardship and giving..
- If you talk to some people about tithing as a duty and a faithfulness of following scripture, some will listen and following the challenge.
- For others, you show them a few pictures of children that are hurting and lack and show how a few cents each day will transform their suffering.
- Some are moved by guilt, shame or fear to give because you can’t out give God.
- Still others need to see the balance sheets and of the organization, the estimates of the market place and find ways of saving through giving.
But the whole power of stewardship is some of each of these, but it is rooted in a radical and extravagant love that is willing to do whatever it takes to build a loving relationship with us.. and once we find that kind of relationship, stewardship is our automatic response and expression of love.
John Hayes, my OT professor loved his multiple choice questions. Most ever test had 100-150 multiple choice questions and all of the had a 5th choice: E) all of the above or none of the above. What if:
- Signs are important.
- debate is important
- wisdom is important
- discernment is important
- politics are important
- geography and culture differences are important
- Understanding and sharing the cross of Jesus Christ call for E) All of the above.
The Cross of Christ is God’s eternal gift.
- some folks are not ready to see its power
- some have forgotten the power it held
- some have decided it’s not theirs to carry.
Paul is saying, most simply: it is foolish to live with vanilla when Hershey’s dark chocolate fudge brownie and pistachio-mango-strawberry-swirl give you a better balance of what ice cream can be. Knowing, Living and Sharing the Christ of the Cross takes our whole life.. not just Sunday..
Homework: It sounds foolish, but eat three radically different flavors of ice cream (unless you’re diet or health are endangered, then try three different flavors of what is in your eating plan) Three scoops or three spoonfuls. Or three different fruits, two of which you don’t usually eat. As you taste three different bites ask: What if fruits only tasked like raspberries and never like water melon? What if I only at Brussels sprouts and never tried fried green tomatoes?
What if I were foolish enough to try all three? What if we are foolish enough to think there is on our time, our understanding and our perspective?
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” [NRSV]
• Jesus dismisses the disciples before dismissing the crowd. Leaders need retreat and renewal in order to be fit for leadership.
• Just when rest is needed, the A boat battered by the waves, far from the shore, with the wind against them. Strike three.
• Stepping out of perfectly find boat, into the awesome power of storm is the antithesis of safety?? [Jumping from the frying pan into the fire.]
• Jesus invites us to Come to him, IN the midst of a terrible storm.
o Jesus is in the storm, WITH us.
o Peter walks on the water..
• We are amazed that Jesus walked on the water, but Peter did the same. Ordinary, fallible, doubting, over-thinking, over planning, over talking, over protecting Peter..
• Finds Jesus’ strength to do all things, more powerful than storms and nature, greater than the rules of science and engineering. Peter can do all things in Christ who gives him strength..
BUT, This is what gets us in to real trouble. BUT. Our buts get us into trouble.
We think that following Jesus keeps the storms away. Nope.
Those outside the church look at our lives and see we have illnesses, hardship and struggles. They ask, “Where is God” or think “God is gone or made up.”
Or our trouble is that WE think WE have conquered the waves and storms.
We step out in the waters of faith, God blesses and guides us and we look away.
There is a cinematic focal point where the camera pans from the storm and connects Jesus’ eyes with Peter’s eyes. They are connected.
But when Peter looks away, the connection is broken, the connection is lost, the power is cut off. Because it is not Peter’s power. Peter looks at the storm, at the impossible, at the fear, at anything except Jesus and down he goes into the storm.
Home Work is to get out of the boat and keep our eyes on Jesus.
It is easy to sit here in the fellowship, with great music and friends and good neighbors, but thing of storms of jobs, bills, cancers and broken hearts, fighting fears and families. Step into a storm and bring all eyes to Jesus.
Help someone see Jesus in the storm.
Break up a fight. Make a call, send an email, write a letter, start the conversation, break the silence. Be the messenger that reminds and introduces: “Jesus is here with us now.”
You may say, I don’t get mixed up in others folks troubles. Then get out and look around, live a little and see and hear our neighbors who feel that they are about to drown and we have words of power, hope and life to share.
Practice: Look in the eyes of someone this morning. Do you see Jesus or just evidence of a wrestles night lacking sleep? Tell that person,
“Keep Your eyes on Jesus and he will see you through every part of your life.”
Nothing is impossible in Christ who gives us strength.
Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” [NRSV]
- Jesus makes clear his Messiahship: “I am the gate.”
- Salvation comes by entering the ‘gate’.
- Purpose of salvation is to come and go, enter and exit.
- Mother’s Day; We are thankful for those who mother us without smothering us. Protect us without locking us in the tower. Who teach us to trust and forgive. Qualities of the a good gate keeper. But even the best mom in the world cannot provide salvation.
- Abundant life is found coming into the fold as well as going out where the thief, wolf, and searching for daily bread co-exisit.
Don’t stay in, Do follow a voice that doesn’t have your best interest.
Genesis 12:1-4a Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. [NRSV]
Psalm 121 I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. [NRSV]
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. [NRSV]
John 3:1-17 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “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. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [NRSV]
- The context of this lenten message is a collective voice of ‘faith’.
- The nutshell is faith is possible because God’s love is so great we are compelled to trust and believe.
- The “so what” is a compelling reflection to answer honestly do we believe because we dare not or because we dare to love.
Preacher Joke of the week: Angels were talking with God about the current state of the earth. God says, “I think only about 5% of true believers. The other 95% prefer to the ride in the hand-basket.” The angel says, “Do want us to go shake things up?” God says not send our letters of appreciation and thanksgiving to the 5%.” So as your pastor, I ask you: What did you letter say? What? you didn’t get one either..
- The Genesis text tells of father Abraham trusting God’s call to go where he is send. Methodist Preachers understand that one pretty well. Look where God sent us, to be in this moment together to worship, support and rejoice together. Hallelujah!
- Abram sets off on a journey of faith and is given God’s blessing for getting off his duff and taking steps of faith in God’s direction. That is faith in action.
- The Psalmist reminds us to remember God’s presence surrounds us. God is on his holy mountain and God is also by our side. We can take courage to be people of faith because we have both a calling, a mission, a purpose as well as the power and support to make the journey. Both gifts are from God.
- Paul teaches about Abram to the church at Romans pointing out that from the beginning God is with those God calls. God is with Abram, with Roman and Paul and God is with us in Jackson and beyond.
- In the gospel lesson we find the midnight debate between two teachers: Jesus and Nicodemus. Nick comes to Jesus in an act of faith. He is putting his life and livelihood on the line to find out more about Jesus and his teaching.
Some people exchange teaching, lessons and knowledge with the life experience our education prepares us to life. I am appreciative for every teacher and mentor that taught, challenged and sparked interest in my thinking. But if I too all that knowledge and never built upon it, never test it, never put those lessons and thoughts to work then I would only have grand ideas.
- Abram takes God’s word and allows them to change the direction of his life.
- The Psalmist uses words to step outside of ourselves and see God is ahead calling us and beside us to encourage and save us.
- Paul draw back on lessons in history to challenge the current church to step beyond the rules, laws and traditions to see God present in our present reality. God is with us here and now.
- And, it is John’s gospel that retells us just how much God loves us, just how much God wants us to believe, just how much God wants us to be drawn together… so much that he gave his only son, exchanging that life for the broken life we have to offer.
And to claim this gift, we are called to think? no more think. ?We are called to remember? no more than remember. We are called to know the right answer?
Are we called to do the live the perfect life?
No its not just the answers and it’s not how good a manager we manage to be.
The key is belief that God loves us just as much as Jesus reveals to us.
The heart is that we believe enough to change the direction of our lives toward the life God desires for us.
God wants us to walk with, talk with and journey together.
When we take what we know and act on God’s love for us, THEN we believe.
Do you believe God or just know about God?
Do you believe Jesus or just know about Jesus?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, or knows about the wind?
God desires belief witnessed in the action of our lives.
For God has already given us what our spirit hungers for, will we believe it is within our grasp and take it?
“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>
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. [NRSV]
The Luminers, a folk-rock group based in Denver, were nominated at for a Grammy as both the “Best New Artist” and “the Best Americana Album”. Their songs are simple and very sing-able. I would guess that is one of the reasons they have become so popular. One of their best know is a song called “Ho Hey.” The title comes from the ‘Ho’ and ‘Hey’ grunted between the lines of the verses. But the main lyrics of this love song speak of a search for love and belonging. These are two very important parts of our human experience that the world hears in a folk song.
Here is a group of folks who moved from different parts of the world, through New York, and find their way to Denver as a home. Theirs is a new family found through music that sings about the journey to belong and find love.
This is what our hymns/songs do for us that we sing today. They are five people, in two years sang to sold-out crowds, sold double platinum number of records and held the honor of having the most shared song on “Spotify” music app. They are not a church; nor are they neither call themselves religious, nor Christian and yet they are sing about the power we offer. What’s up with that?
Bill Graham is the iconic cheer leader for sinners everywhere in our lifetime.
Come the Cross is the invitation of every sermon: Come to face to face with God’s love, God’s proof revealed in the cross.
Paul writes to the churches at Corinth: Don’t fuss, don’t be divided, don’t be fooled yourself or others. It is Christ who is for us all. We are all to be for Christ. Think of all the people:
• we have steered away from faith because our own will, our plan, our traditions.
• we have closed the door of hope because we didn’t speak, invite, or respond.
• Think of all simple ways we empty the cross of its power.
What, you think we have never done that?
On one hand there is nothing we can do that changes God’s love for us.
On the other hand we can make it so difficult for folks and ourselves from experiencing that love now.
Paul’s passion and warning is not to empty the cross of it’s power. How does that happen?
When we don’t reach out to those who are hurting, hiding and those who are full-of-themselves.
Is it the mission of a folk-rock band to tell the world about belonging to God’s love? No.
Is it just for the TV Evangelists to spread the word? Is it just the hired help at the church? No.
“You are My Witnesses.”
Why would you not want to be a witness?
Are the details too cloudy, do you not remember? Then open the book, open your heart and mind.
Are you too afraid,
Are you too busy,
Pick your reasons and excuses…
Paul points to the boiling point: “the foolishness of the perishing.”
Those who are following their own way, and not God’s way, are dying, separating and burning out.
The foolish part is they think they are strong, deserving, and right by their own judgment.
God has show use how much God loves us, in hope….that we would choose to trust and follow God’s way.
Here is our homework:
Pray for God to open the opportunity for us to share the ‘Cross’ with someone this week.
Reach out to someone this week and actually share the message of the cross with someone THIS week.
When you do this, be prepared for it to not be accepted, welcomed, or received. But just do it.
If we are not the ones sharing the Cross, we too are unplugged from its power in ourlives.
There are times we show God’s love in acts of service
There are times we show God’s love in deeds of mercy
There are times we show God’s love in theory and ideas
This week let us show it in words of faith that are alive on our hearts and lips.
Tell someone about the cross
Don’t let the power of the cross be missed
Don’t take credit, don’t look for blame, just look for God to show up, in you, in them, or all around.
Tell them God loves them, Tell them God cares. Tell them God knows us.
Tell them God gave his life for ours in Jesus Christ.
We deserved the death, the hell, rejection and the brokenness for all our sins and foolishness..
Through the Cross Jesus took for us, took on himself the blame, the cause, the reasons
And in exchange,
God gives us power, life and hope.
Is this what our community, our country and world needs to hear? Yes it does.
Who is going to speak it? Sing it? Tell it?
If five people can find their way to Denver and have millions of Lumineer fans listen in a year.
What can five people form Jackson do in year if they are as relentless in telling about Cross of Jesus Christ.
Let’s find out.