Posts Tagged spiritual growth

Luke 2:41-52 Lost in Three Days

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Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.

Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.

Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. [NRSV]

Jesus’s Childhood: Normal yet Extraordinary

This text is the only text where Jesus’ life between infancy and adulthood is recorded. Although a very brief description of these years, it gives us enough to think about him as a normal boy, trained well in the traditions of Judaism.

This is one of the most human and divine stories in the life of Jesus. On one hand, what parent has not a moment of experiencing a lost child story. Susanna lost in Belk department store, happily watching Barney in the children’s section. Or Luke at Turner field without his seat tickets and all the entrances began to look alike after a trip the men’s room. Or Frances…

On the occasion of Passover, Jesus’ parents, along with many other faithful Jews, took the journey to the city of Jerusalem. At some point on the return trip back to their home, they noticed Jesus was missing. They thought twelve-year-old Jesus was among the travelers. After a three-day search, to their surprise, they found Jesus in the temple in the middle of a conversation with religious teachers.

Typical of a concerned parent, Mary questions Jesus about his disappearance. She must have been very worried and upset because he had stayed in Jerusalem. Mary says, we’ve been “searching for you in great anxiety” (v.48). To which, Jesus replies, “Why were you searching for me?” Any parent would have responded with a, “What do you mean, ‘Why?’ We are your parents.” Every child know the drill. But this is the fascinating thing about this text: it enhances Jesus’ humanity, and it gives us a small, but significant entry into his family, “the holy family.”

The word for this week is “Search.” Mary and Joseph search for their lost child, Jesus. Jesus is on a search for answers; he is developing into adulthood, and—above all— discovering his mission as Son of God. I know this presents serious questions for some people regarding Jesus’ nature as both human and divine. For some, the question is, “Didn’t he understand his own divinity?” For others, the question is, “If he understands his divinity, how authentic was his experience as a human being?” The text reads, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” ( v.52).

The epistle to Hebrews affirms Jesus’ experience as common to all other human beings, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (5:7-9). Thus, like any other human being, Jesus learned to obey his Heavenly Father. And so, we find him learning the ropes of his faith, and perhaps deepening his understanding of who is and what he is called to do as the Messiah.

The presence of the parents and the dynamic of family interactions make this text very accessible. Concerns about family life, child rearing, spiritual formation, faith discoveries, family rules, and communication between parents and youth are places where the theme of “search” can surface. Even Jesus was under the tutelage of a family; he had questions and was thirsting for truth and meaning. Jesus shows depth and maturity as a young twelve-year-old boy.

We are not privy to the content of his interaction in the temple, but he is both “listening to them and asking them questions.” Additionally, he had a grasp of the faith and tradition as “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (v. 47).

This passage brings back memories of my visit to Israel. I had a chance to approach the Western Wall (or wailing wall). We carried in our pockets a list of petitions from our group to be inserted between the stones that make up the wall. We began our journey toward the wall in the middle of a huge crowd made up of hundreds of men praying. Many of them stood in circles sharing questions and answers, under the tutelage of either a rabbi or an elder Jew.

In the text, we see a very Jewish moment, with Jesus and his parents caught in between Jesus’ search for answers and Mary and Joseph’s search for their son. For us Christian listeners in the twenty-first century on this first Sunday after Christmas Day, we have an invitation to continue our search for depth and greater maturity in our faith journey.

Like Jesus, we want to have the freedom to raise questions and to share our view on things spiritual. It would be wonderful if every faith community could be that place where people would feel they could go on their own to find answers. We will always be surrounded by self-appointed leaders who like fathers and mothers will question our whereabouts, our independent thinking, or our going in the opposite direction.

There is a juggling act in this text: The important of family life and the and the uncontainable and inevitable coming of age of all human beings, and the reminder that like Jesus, we also must be about our heavenly parent’s business.

As a mother and a father, God wants us to give an account of our whereabouts, but at the same time wants us to explore, discern, ask questions, and search for answers.

In practical terms, Scripture, prayer, worship, small-group Bible studies, hymns, praise songs, serves of others, meditation, and all kinds of spiritual discipline are important tools to help us continue our search.

From different angles, this text in the Christmas season can lay a foundation for what is yet to come in the next several weeks as we see Jesus becoming an adult and fully engaged in his messianic mission.

Weekly Sermon are a chore and a Joy

I offer to you there is a weekly joy and chore about preparing sermons. Sermon preparation is a spiritual discipline in itself. The exercise of immersing in the text week in and week out can be a tedious task. It can also become monotonous and a matter of doing the job as opposed to an adventure in learning new things about ourselves, about God, and about the applications of our faith in the real world.

I have confidence that not every sermon is a homerun and not everyone listens to my words. But I truly hope that the text of Jesus being an ordinary person, with ordinary parents, finds himself not with his birth-family but with his spiritual family.

This text can motivate us to give ourselves permission to explore biblical, theological, and church matters.

Consider a presentation on the reality of family life, coming of age, and independent thinking in our children. By the same token, also consider a homiletical lesson on subjects such as: sensitivity on the part of spiritual elders toward young inquiring minds and the importance of providing spaces for in-depth discussions on faith matters.

Urgency of being Lost

The questions for us has the urgency of knowing that what we teach the next generation can be lost in a matter of days up assuming someone else has them covered or that someone else is responsible or that someone else with watching after the children while we do our own thing.

What are you and I doing to be assured that no one is left out, left behind in their spiritual journey?

Where better for us to be but in the fellowship of witnesses, teachers and co-learners at the church/temple to be about our heavenly father’s call upon our lives.

Look at the next three days. Give three step, three steps mister…

  • What can you do to be more informed about your faith in the next three days
  • What can you do to be clear that those in your family/ circle of influence are growing in faith
  • What strength, joy, hope and love will come if we do nothing and just go about our regular routines.

As the new year approaches: Look at your Spiritual Growth in three day periods:

  1. What can I do today
  2. What will I do tomorrow
  3. Who will God place in my path the day after and will I be ready to listen, teach, serve or share my faith?

 

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Mark 4:26-34 “The Mighty Mustard” RSUMC 20150614

MustardSeeds_PennyHe also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.[NRSV]

The Penny

There was a time when the penny was made of copper and would buy small items in the store. Now it is simply the fraction of tax that helps us feel better about spending $39.99 instead of wasting 40 bucks. When I ran for the office of President of the United States in 2000 to celebrate my 35th birthday, one of my platform items was to only mint pennies for numismatists and casual coin collectors, so that we could conserve our copper supply, allow accountants to sleep at night and kids at fast food establishments could make change. What good is the penny?

The mighty penny might seem insignificant much like a tiny mustard seed in the text. There was a time where pennies were collected as the first apportionment in our Methodist tradition to build a church for worship. Together, the pennies added up to reach a common goal just as profit margins on gasoline and at grocery stores are volume types of business. But the adage that pennies add up to dollars is a good starting point for reading the parable from  Jesus.

One year at Vacation Bible School we collected nickles to help the United Methodist Committee on Relief effort to respond to the victims of Katrina. Each day the children were invited to bring in nickles which were affixed to long strands of tape that wrapped around the sanctuary several time reflecting a couple hundred dollars of nickles. On the same week, the neighboring Baptist church held their VBS and agreed to pool our resources to the same effort. A great witness of cooperation, ecumenical effort and common sense. At the Baptist church they had asked the children to bring in one dollar bills each day that were taped together, end to end, and also wrapped around their sanctuary a few times. The differences was in the total. Nearly the same effort to give, the difference was their seed was larger.

Garden Progress

Jesus is using a gardening and farming illustration to look at the effectiveness of broadcasting compared to targeted conversations of witness. In summary of the text: We do not know how or where one little seed of faith, grace, compassion, feeding, healing, forgiving, love, trusting, blessing will inspire fruitful faith of someone else. But the mustard bush is more of a weed. The text has a double depth of meaning if we read it hearing how God can make weeds we might cut down and discard something useful and necessary.

A second, and very Methodist part of the text, is Jesus’s description of a process of spiritual growth. We start with someone sowing a seed, but that is followed by power in God’s creation that has nothing to do with us beginning to germinate what one person beings. First the stalk, then the head and then the full grain. The structure or core support system comes first, then the evidence of the maturity and THEN follows the fruit of the whole process.

The nano-second world we fly through is reluctant to hand on for the process. Imagine yourself watching a beautiful large screen television with 4K resolution and super surround sound in a custom contour recliner with refreshment access. Some team of producers, directors, investors, designers, musicians, technicians, actors, marketers, promoters and accountants have spend months and millions of dollars to create a movie experience to entertain you. You hold in your hand the powerful remote control with fresh batteries. How long does it take for you to decide if you want to watch the two hours of drama, action, comedy or information that awaits you? It takes just a about one second for the image to change per remote click, (new remote reducing to .5 seconds). Average view spends ten minutes reviewing 200 channels during an average 2-3 hours of time watching per day. (10 out of 120 minutes surfing), but 80% of the time they revert to ten favorite channels.

Whether we are are overwhelmed by choice, attention defects, devote that kind of time to our decisions, or like the control part facet of operating a remote, I invite you to step back from this common practice and think about the tiny bits of time and information that are involved in this daily exercise. (It is humorous to talk use the word exercise when talking about tv remotes.) Nonetheless, small visual clues based on past experiences, current stimulus signals, small movements of the thumb or finger indicate how we will be informed or entertained, How we spend 2-3 hours of each 24 hours. 10% of that time in devoted to searching and scanning.

Transfer this set of skills and behaviors. If we spend 2-3 hours studying scripture and books of faith and inspiration, how different would our 24 hours be? 2-3 hours of faith driving content, music, videos, ebooks, etc. Imagine how this would shape our own faith identity, our church and the world.

Think back about the process describe in Jesus’ parable teaching: First the seed, time to develop a structure, following the structure produces maturity, maturity produces fruitful witness, life and relationships.

Take a double look and hear the God is at work even in the relationships we might write off as unimportant can become the place others thrive. So take care to grow more than you cut out.

We have the ability to make small actions of shaping our faith and the future of the church. The task is to be intentional.

INTENTIONAL SPIRITUAL GROWTH

  • First the seed
  • Then the stalk
  • Then the head
  • Then the full fruit

I would make  a case that we allow our spiritual seeds to become “genetically modified” by those who use the church, rather than nurtured by the church. We have allowed the power of Christs presence for the shell of a body of tradition or a competitive entertainment . We need to get to the good seeds and scatter them far and near, and often We need to get back to sharing and planting and teaching the seeds of our faith.

  • God loves us, unconditionally
  • God has purpose for us, without doubt
  • God is with us, the presence of God’s spirit
  • God has made a way, Jesus and the cross
  • God is seen, through the intentional fruits of the church
  • God is real
  • God wants our heart, our trust, our love
  • God connects us

These are the seeds that we need to know, encourage and rely on in every day.

The seed is neither mighty nor the end of the story.. it is the continuous flow of starting points, that are repeated in every season.

The Work:

  1. Plant seeds of faith, small ones, every day, every where, every one.
  2. Develop the stalk, don’t tear someone down, build the structure and support
  3. Start with the heart work toward the head, rather than reverse.. roots grow with stalk, not the fruit first
  4. Fruit is for sharing and enjoying and replanting

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Ephesians 2.1-10 “Saved by Grace” RSUMC 201503015

HOPE_Deadend_RoadYou were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ —by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. [NRSV]

  1. Before you found salvation

    1. You were walking dead
    2. Traveling on a dead end road
    3. You were like zombies, those who thought the only thing real in this world was themselves, their own efforts and failure, their own riches or poverty, their own reality and rules.
    4. DON’T Go Back To That Pace!
  2. We once were children of wrath

    1. You love to push the limits of both God and yourself.
    2. How many people hate God because one or two people in the church act inappropriately
    3. How many people run from God because we never explained why God/Jesus/Spirit are vitially important to our own lives (We just hope they see the testimony we live and say nothing.)
    4. Say that one again: (We just hope folks see our intended testimony of our actions and we teach, explain, tell folks nothing to confirm they got the correct message.) SAVI
  3. But we are no longer on the dead end road.

    1. We are on the alive for evermore road
    2. We are on the alive road with Jesus
    3. We are on the alive road together with one another, we are not alone
    4. We are on the alive road that is paved with grace, paved with the sacrifice of blame, sin, curse, and judgement that is due us, but has been taken on by Jesus instead.
    5. Don’t be rude, but don’t get lost in political correctness,
    6. Reach out to the lost and show them, tell them, plead with them the way of grace in Christ.
  4. SO WHAT?

    1. So in at a future time, when we leave this earth and this physical body is no more
    2. So when Christ returns to claim us and clean things up for the fresh start.
    3. So at a time in the future of God’s own choosing we can look back and see that God is not nearly as concerned about where we have wandered, as much as God is ultimately concerned about our being with God for today and the time from NOW on.
    4. God is kind enough to judge us, give the sentence to himself, and restore our relationship.
  5. BOTTOM LINE:

    1. For we are what he has made us,
    2. We are created in Christ Jesus for good works,
    3. To become the people God has hoped and dreamed we would be
      1. for the way of life intended from the beginning.
      2. for the relationship that was at the start, God opens to us,
      3. because God operates from a bedrock, foundation of love and kindness.
  1. COUNTER Point: There are those who will be so quick to respond.

  1. Why did my parent or child or sibling have to suffer and/or die.
  2. Why did God take them?
  3. From a loving point of view, which would you rather God be interested in your life:
    1. The absence of a family member for four to forty years or for them to be absent in eternity?
    2. GOD is not punishing up with death.
  1. If God is so good and kind, why doesn’t God stop evil in the world? hunger, disease, acts of terror, etc?
  2. The presence of evil in the world affirm that we still have choice to live for God.
  3. If evil were removed from the world without our our choice in the matter, then life and relationships would not matter.

iii. The reality of evil is evidence that God is still wanting us to choose to be in relationship with God.

  1. If I give up to the dead end road and allow evil to consume my heart and intentions and actions, then I don’t need God.

Go back to the key verse, the heart of this passage to the church and community at Ephesus:

***STAR (by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is God’s gift.)

Step you through… Tab A into Slot B:

  • 1. Our life and relationships are entrusted to us from God. God made each of us, and declares we are good.
  • 2. Before, Christ, you and I  were walking dead…like zombies
  • 3. We lived like we had no choice and no help.
  • 4. Because God operates from Love, God has not forgotten nor forsaken us.
  • 5. Evil is still present because God still wants us to have a choice in the matter of our lives.
  • 6. By Faith, by intentionally choose to live in God and grow in God, the gift is opened and realized.
  • 7. We are in this together. See a zombie, open the love of God to them in kindness.
  • 8. God is more concerned about who you now than who you were, God makes us all new.
  • **Because God operates from love for us, God takes the time, for settling our crime.
  • God love us, the whole world, God waits patiently for us to want to travel with God…
  • Q: What road are you traveling? dead end or life transforming?
  • Q: People are going on the dead end road and we have news that will save them.
  • There are people who are living as though they are not spiritual people in a physical body.
  • Do go back down the road that dead ends
  • Do go back, Don’t give up
  • Turn town God, even at a crawl. baby steps before we run.

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