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Knowledge and Love: A Sermon on 1 Cor. 1:8-13

Kids phoneKnowledge and Love

1 Corinthians 1:8-13

†  In Jesus Name

 

As you experience the length and width, the height and depth of God’s love for you, may your knowledge be tempered by the love that God creates in your life, as you live your life through Him

Given a choice.. which will you choose for those you love?

There is a cute picture floating around the internet, of one of these.

It says above it, “it doesn’t matter how old or mean you are, when w toddler hands you one of these and say’s ‘it’s for you’, you take it and start talking into it.”

I think that is pretty much true, and I am tempted to try it on some of you afterward.

It’s because we care for our children, or grandchildren, or nephews or nieces or students. Or in the case of the teachers, our students. We love them, and they can melt the hardest heart.

So I want to think of that kid, who could get you to answer one of these.  Close your eyes, picture them in your mind and answer this question.

If you could choose what would be said about them at the end of their lives, would you desire it to be said they were geniuses, or that they loved and cared for the people around them and made a difference in their lives?

Not a difficult decision, or at least I would hope that it wouldn’t it be!

And in our gospel reading this morning, this is what the apostle Paul is talking about. And it is what we are talking about this morning, Knowledge and love.

Importance versus building up the community?

If I may, I would like to use a personal example.  When I was younger, there was this game called trivial pursuit.  Some of you may be familiar with it.

I loved it!  And I was…. pretty good at it.  Enough so that I usually won and proved the apostle Paul correct when he said, knowledge makes us feel important.  Some translations phrase it a little differently.  Knowledge puffs us up talking about our egos, and our minds.  And then one day, I looked at the name of the game again…

Trivial Pursuit.  What I was doing was chasing after what was trivial, what was meaningless.  And in the end, about all odd bits of knowledge were good for was putting little pieces of plastic inside another piece of plastic and annoying some friends.

While there is a lot of knowledge that isn’t trivial, there are enough examples of people who think they are more important than others because they have the knowledge given to them.  I won’t list the occupations, but I bet you are thinking of one or two professions that act that way.  Or you see yourself in this.

That is why Paul will say in chapter 13 if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 (NLT)

Instead of focusing on knowledge, Paul tells us it is love that builds the house, in this translation, it translates the house as church.  But the concept works the same in the church, in the home, or in the community we call home.

In each, in our homes, in our church, in our community, it is love is what binds us together, it is love that makes that bond strong and causes us to grow as a family.

The challenge is loving others the way we love the kid handing us the phone.

In the example Paul uses, he talks about how this love changes us, using the example of food offered to idols.

For him, with all the knowledge of one who was a leading Jewish theologian and became the greatest of Christian pastor-theologians, the idea of food offered to idols was silly.

The idols were carved pieces of wood or rock, metal fashioned to look like how man imagined God to be. And because there was no inherent power in them, because they weren’t gods, eating the food someone else dedicated to them was of no great importance.

But it was of great importance to those who didn’t know different.  They saw the world as a cosmic battle between these false gods and the One True God who came to us, love us and died for us.

And while knowledge would say debate with them and show them the truth, love said that we needed to remember they weren’t ready for to hear that; be patient.  Winning the argument isn’t worth driving them from Jesus. We can go without being proved right in the small stuff, we can even go without that piece of bacon wrapped shrimp or stuffed pork chops rather than cause them to stumble and do what they thought was wrong.

It’s not worth the fight, it’s not worth the debate.  Such debates can destroy faith, but love puts it in the correct priority… and eventually, love will straighten it all out.

How it happens

But how do we love others, especially when we some people are just darn difficult to love?  And how do we teach our children, grandchildren, students and other children we come into contact with to love like Jesus loved us?

The answer on how to love like that, how to make a difference in someone else’s life isn’t found in some instruction manual, it isn’t found in a series of podcasts or videos.

It is found in knowing that we are God, as Paul said,

There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live.

And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live.

It is found in living for and in God that we find the love that changes us.  It forgives and removes our sin, and makes us holy, set apart to love God, to love His people.  It is something that is realized more than learned, something that we spend our life growing in, and as He changes us, we love, even those others see as unlovable.

For that is what knowing God’s love does, it changes us, and it gives us hope in the middle of what seems a lost and broken world.  That is why we are here, and why we have a place for kids, who will hand us a phone, and learn from us how to love.  As we learn it from God our Father.  AMEN!

What Are We Teaching our Children?

DSCF1394 - CopyDoes it make you a better king if you build houses of cedar, finer than those of others?  Your father enjoyed a full life. He was always just and fair, and he prospered in everything he did. 16 He gave the poor a fair trial, and all went well with him. That is what it means to know the LORD. 17 But you can only see your selfish interests; you kill the innocent and violently oppress your people. The LORD has spoken.  Jeremiah 22:15-17  TEV

Our educational work should have a purpose: to elicit a change in our students, to make them grow in wisdom, to help them undergo a transformation, to provide them with knowledge, with new feelings and, at the same time, achievable ideals. Many institutions promote the formation of wolves more than of brothers and sisters by educating their students to compete and succeed at the expense of others, with only a few weak ethical standards.

As I finally got to reading my devotions today (actually tonight) I was struck by the words of Pope Francis.

It doesn’t help that as we were cleaning our garage, I found one of my old report cards, in fact, the same grade my son is entering.  I showed it to him, and was amazed at the pressure he felt to live up to my standards. (I should have shown him my sophomore year of High School)  Then I read Pope Francis’s words, shortly after seeing a picture of my dad and son, one of the last taken of them together.

My dad had a unique challenge – my brother was the star athlete, I was somewhat of a brain, at least by small town standards.  Getting us to work together was a challenge, and competitively, we were fierce. How he got us to play and work together was a remarkable challenge, especially as he was somewhat competitive as well!  Our schools weren’t so good at the task, firing us up to compete, playing on our pride and baser instincts.   (My one exception was St. Francis for junior high – they taught us to work together…and those 15 kids mean the world to me still!)

My wife is a teacher, our church has a preschool and once had an elementary school.  We have a lot of friends who are teachers as well.  (If you are reading this, please drop the red pens for a moment!)   And in a sense, I teach others, a little (and a significant amount) older than my wife and friends, but none the less, teach.

Which gets me back to Pope Francis, and his words about educating people.  Are we encouraging a competitive factor in them?  Are we encouraging them to be successful by standards that leave others behind?  Or are we teaching them to work together, to forgive each other, to lift up each other?  Are we hearing the prophet Jeremiah speaking for God as he takes on our selfish natures, as we have no problem oppressing people, or allowing them to be oppressed so we can live in peace?

We need to learn to teach like Jesus did, who though He was God, knelt down with a basin and towel and washed the feet of some pretty stubborn, argumentative and rebellious students. We need to teach them to serve each other, and those around them, whether we teach them Math, English, Geography, Computer Information Systems, World Religions or 1, 2, 3 John.

It’s a challenge, whether in preschool, middle school, college or a simple Bible Study.  For what we are teaching them is to love one another…which means we need to learn to love them.  As Paul says in Romans 12, really love them.   For God loves them, and wants to walk with them all.

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

 

 

The Powerful Presence of God… some thoughts on the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper

church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:
15  You are reasonable people. Decide for yourselves if what I am saying is true. 16  When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? 17  And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body.   1 Corinthians 10:15-17 (NLT)

We have quoted all of this here, not to begin an argument on this subject (his Imperial Majesty does not disapprove this article), but to make clear to all our readers that we defend the doctrine received in the whole church—that in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present and are truly offered with those things that are seen, bread and wine. We are talking about the presence of the living Christ, knowing that “death no longer has dominion over him.”7

826      You have to make your life essentially, totally eucharistic.

My father’s 88th Birthday was on Monday, and one picture of my dad continues to come to mind.  It was him, kneeling at the altar rail, wearing his sunglasses (with a  light brown tint )

I knew the reason he wore him, he was afraid of people seeing the tears that would flow as He received the body and blood of His Savior Jesus.  The presence that would lay his broken and wounded heart out, and allow healing to happen.  The tears couldn’t stop while he was there, the was nothing he could do about them.  And there was, in the midst of the tears caused by ripping open the scars, a sense of wonder at the peace.  It overwhelmed him.  There are two pictures of my dad that come to mind when I think of him in his older years, and this is the primary one.

I then think of a phenomenon that occurs when the youngest of children approach the rail in my church.  It started with one girl during an Ash Wednesday Communion service.  She was 2 and a half, and so comfortable at the rail next to her mother that communed that she grabbed hold of it, and wouldn’t let it go.  Her scream pierced the darkened church a moment later, “No I want to stay with Jesus!” she said!  Since then, almost always on their first visit, we’ve seen children do this, again and again, grasping onto the rail, or trying to come back after their parents returned to their seat.  Far too many times for it to be a coincidence, and my elders and deacons know well to simply tell the parents it is okay for them to stay there. They are welcome, and they are at peace.

When I read St. Josemaria’s words this morning, as he advises us to make our lives eucharistic, ( or some Lutherans might use the word Incarnational) it resounded to me.  The words were supported by the observation in the Lutheran Apology of the Augsburg Confession – as Melanchthon reminds us we are communing with the Body and Blood of Christ, the presence of the living resurrected Messiah, Jesus.

We are in His presence, He gives us Himself in this bread, in this wine.  It is something that should leave us in awe at His sacrifice of love, at His desire to be part of our lives, part of us.  That in this meal, at this moment, we find ourselves in the same place as the elders of Israel in Moses day.

9  Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain again. 10  There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. 11  And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence! Exodus 24:9-11 (NLT)

He did not destroy Him, they were so at peace in the glorious presence of God that they ate and drank ( the NLT adds in “a covenant meal, ” but they were indeed celebrating the Mosaic Covenant – God’s promise to care for them, to make them His people)

I know my dad felt that overwhelmed, even if he had great trouble describing it with words.  Just the thought would bring tears to his eyes, and cause him to struggle to speak.  He would be so overwhelmed he didn’t want to approach it too often, he had to work himself us to go to that place, so overwhelming was the peace and his need for it.  I think kids are more aware of the presence of God than we could credit them for, which is why the altar is a joyous, peaceful place they don’t want to leave.

I could tell you the story of others, whose body language shared how crushed they were by the world, or by the weight of their own sins, only to approach the altar and have all that pressure dissipate, all that weight lifted.

Not because of the pastor/priest, not because of the building, but simply because of the presence of God, Because of the gift, the grace He gives us in this holy sacrament, for He gives us Himself….. and like the elders, we do not die in the presence of God, but He nourishes us, as He reminds us of the covenant, of His promise that we are His.

I pray that you and I could be like the kids, who never want to leave, as we experience His presence, as He heals our broken hearts and souls.  May we yearn for it, not to be considered pious by the world, but to experience the foretaste of heaven, and share in His glory.

May we receive His gift with gladness and joy!  AMEN!

 

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2935-2936). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Christmas, Children and the Wisdom of Philosophers & Theologians

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

13  Then some people came to him bringing little children for him to touch. The disciples tried to discourage them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant and told them, “You must let little children come to me – never stop them! For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Indeed, I assure you that the man who does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and laid his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13 (Phillips NT)

But behold, I see a thing not understood by the proud, nor laid open to children, lowly in access, in its recesses lofty, and veiled with mysteries; and I was not such as could enter into it, or stoop my neck to follow its steps. For not as I now speak, did I feel when I turned to those Scriptures; but they seemed to me unworthy to he compared to the stateliness of Tully: for my swelling pride shrunk from their lowliness, nor could my sharp wit pierce the interior thereof. Yet were they such as would grow up in a little one. But I disdained to be a little one; and, swollen with pride, took myself to be a great one.

But in order to have a living awareness of this, we need conversion, we need to turn around inside, as it were, to overcome the illusion of what is visible, and to develop the feeling, the ears and the eyes, for what is invisible. This has to be more important than anything that bombards us day after day with such exaggerated urgency. Metanoeite: change your attitude, so that you may see God’s presence in the world—change your attitude, so that God may dwell in you and, through you, in the world.

The words in blue from Augustine, one of the smartest philosopher-theologians amazed me this morning.  As he writes his confession, not unlike Solomon, he describes the times of darkness.  Even as he hungered for truth, he couldn’t find it.

Pope Benedict XVI’s words in the third quote support this lack of finding that which is sought for, as he responds that only conversion can bring what we need, what we search for in our lives.  To paraphrase Socrates, we are only truly wise when we realize how much we don’t know..

It is ike Christmas and the difference between a child and an adult receiving a gift.  The child is awe of the gift, even the box the gift came in!  They are in the moment, enjoying it. They are often in awe, as if to say, “this is for me?”   They dive into the joy of the moment, and that is their reality

As we grow older and know more, there is an innocence lost about such moments.  We don’t often dive into the presents, the moments of joy, and we contemplate instead on how we will pay the bills, or why people don’t understand us (proven by one of those gifts again!

( I was thinking, based on years of marital counseling – people can treat sex the same way, losing the awe and being int he moment, instead trying to analyze it!)

SO it is with God, if we stay outside and try to study and understand Him.  When developing the next great theological manuscript, or understanding what a dead guy said about some aspect of God, or His creation.   We spend too much time looking for the big answers, seeking to understand things that are far greater than us, things that simply exist when we approach them as children

The solution to this is simple. The same as it is for the adult at Christmas.  We need to get down on the floor and become part of the celebration. We need to engage in the joy, in the moment, in the relationship that God desires with us.   We need to pray more, trust more and celebrate His love with all of our heart and soul, mind and strength.

That may mean dropping that theology text, or putting aside that debate.

That’s okay, if you were meant to write it, or read it, you will get far more out of it when you have spent some time in the moment with the Lord who created that moment, and desires to spend it with you.  If you don’t believe me, think about Augustine, Benedict, Luther, Socrates, and the 2-year old who simply wants to sit at the altar rail throughout the church service.

Lord, have mercy on us, please give us the trust and awe of a child!

Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 391). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

 

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Companions of the Cross – Lesson 2 Mark 9:38-50

Companions of the Cross – Lesson II

Don’t Cause others to Stumble

Mark 9:38-50

 

In Jesus Name

 May You so grow to treasure the grace and mercy of God that you diligently strive to make it known, reminding yourself and those around you to depend upon it in all times.

Being Christ’s Companion is Like a Treasured Cup of Coffee 

Dr. Anthony Campolo told a story about one of his aha moments, where his faith became real.

He was on his way to an important board meeting in Philadelphia.  One of the ministries he headed up was being considered for an extremely generous grant, the kind that allows for incredible expansion of ministry.

With that in mind, he was walking from the parking garage to the office building when he spotted a man.  A man with dirty hands and filthy clothes. A man whose torn old clothing could have barely protected him from the bitter cold of a Philadelphia winter.  A man with a cup in his hand held out as if hoping for a coin or two to be dropped into the cup.  He was coming right at Dr. Campolo.

The guilt and shame became proactive; Tony knew he should try to help the man – after all, helping others is what he trained college students to do.  As the man came closer, the cup held out.  The nerves rose – there would be no way to avoid the man, he would be late for his meeting, and this guy so looked like he needed the kind of help that Christ would judge Tony for not providing.

As the man approached, he said, “Mister, Mister, here, have this cup of coffee!”  As Tony looked him in stunned disbelief, as this poor broken man tried to serve him, the professor and leader, the man continued, “No I don’t want anything, I just had a cup, and it is such an incredible thing on a day like this, I had to share one with someone else”

As Tony brought the cup to his lips, indeed, it was the best coffee he had ever had. An incredible gift from the least expected person in the world. And he would share with the businessmen that morning, not his prepared notes.  But the story of a man who just had to share what he’d been given.

Such a lesson is the key to this morning, to these passages that seem confusing, until you realize they are about the same thing.

Being a companion of the cross with Jesus. A treasure so incredible, that you have to share it, that you have to help others know it, that it is worth more than life itself.

A Treasure too great to Insulate

We see that in the first few verses.  Last week we heard the disciples getting chewed out because they all want to be the primary disciple, the one who would take over when Jesus died.  Now content to serve each other, Jesus opens the gates a little wider.

The disciples get jealous; they want to protect the only man in history who had no need, and no desire to be protected.  They wanted permission to shut this man down, Tony could have been happy with some security team member intercepting the man he perceived to be a beggar, but would actually offer a hot cup of coffee instead of a cup of water.

We don’t have to protect the gospel; we don’t need to play god and protect God.   Yes, He will call people to trust in Him through the ministry here.  And for others we will simply plant the seeds.  Allowing others to plant the seeds.

We can’t insulate the gospel, we can’t protect it, it is bigger than us.  As one pastor said this week,

“The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into élites, clinging to their own security. They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.

So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ.  (Pope Francis)
Being a companion of Christ is too good not to share, and so why should we be concerned, when others try to share it?  We can help them, together become more consistent with Jesus teachings, but to just stop them?

I am not talking about some required “you must tell your friends and family and force them here.”  But a relationship with God is too incredible to stop us from sharing it, so why should we stop someone else?

A treasure too great to not help protect

The same kind of thing goes for Jesus next point, the one this sermon is titled about.

If we know the value of this relationship with God, then we aren’t going to intentionally case someone to stop trusting in God.  It would be better for those 1000 pounds millstone to be chained to us, and Lal to drop us off on the way out on his next fishing trip.

The more we value God’s call, the more we will want others to know it, and the more we will want those who know it to treasure it, to value their relationship with Jesus  more than any other.  If that is true, how would we feel to cause them to be so scandalized that they fall out of the relationship?

As we grow in our understanding of the dimensions of God’s love, our attitude will change, and we will realize that the little children Jesus is talking about include the atheist, the adherent of Islam, the person’s who sins turn your stomach, and it includes you and I.

As we grow in knowing God’s love, it would cause us great distress to think we drove someone away from the relationship with God we treasure!

A Treasure too Great to Love Other – including ourselves.

The section about cutting off hands and feet, of gouging out eyes was always too much for me.  Seriously first it seemed a bit over the top.  Second, most of us would be crawling around here, for us all too quickly sin.

But the relationship with God is so incredible, that which He offers us is so overwhelming, that we would rather do those things rather than risk it.  We would realize that the first commandment is right – as we know what God has done, it doesn’t make sense to have other gods, it doesn’t make sense to put our trust in idols, even in the idol of ourselves.

That is what this is all about – the love of a God who would come to u because He desires us to be His people.  Who would rather than overlook our sins, decide to take on their burden and die so that we could be free of them.  Who would rise, so that we have the hope of everlasting life, and who would send the gift of the Holy Spirit to us in baptism, so we could know that hope, so we could have a glimpse of it.

A treasure so incredible, so amazing, that we simply can’t help but want others to know it. We would encourage each other to rejoice in it, and guard against causing people to give up on God or His people, and we would rather lose ourselves than lose the relationship.

This is what God gives us… to all.  The professor and the homeless guy, the businessman and the child, the pastor and the shut-in.

The hope we preach, that Christ is in you, and, therefore, you have the hope of sharing in His glory.  And until that hope is seen, you dwell, guarded by Him, in His peace.

AMEN!

Waiting For Our Prodigals…..Be Like a….

Devotional Thought of the Day:Featured image

11  And he said, There was a man who had two sons. 12  And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.And he divided his property between them. 13  Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.

32  It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” Luke 15:11-32 (ESV)

380      Would that you could acquire, as I know you would like to, the virtues of the donkey! Donkeys are humble, hardworking, persevering—stubborn!—and faithful, with a sure step, tough and—if they have a good master—also grateful and obedient.

In the last few months I’ve had a number of parents of adult and teenage children who’ve come to me for prayer.  I hope and pray that my words gave them both hope and comfort.

The issue is often morality, in a couple of the situations, the immorality has led to horrendous consequences.  The trauma on the parents is beyond anything I’e ever experienced. In the others, the fear of such trauma is intense, and seemingly unending. In both cases, fear and pain can seem unending, and reactions from those points can cause even more damage.  Matter of fact, our lack of wisdom may cause more fear and anxiety. Those thoughts, words and actions we know are irreversible, but they aren’t beyond reconciliation.

So what do we do as parents, as pastors, as we wait for our prodigals to return?  How do we deal with the anxieties, as our prodigals are away, enjoying themselves, or living with hogs in the mud?  We don’t know all the story.  We do the story of the prodigal, and hope that our situations will resolve in the same manner.  We look out from our house often, looking down the road for some hope.  We hear a car turn into our driveway, and our hearts are crushed, because it isn’t our prodigal.

Where do we find hope in this?  What can help us find peace, find healing ourselves?  What can help us, between the time they run off to follow strange desires, ignore logical morality, and turn their back on God?  How do we avoid taking on the attitude of the cynical older brother, or just giving up hope, declaring the person dead to us?

We have to know the heart of Father, revealed in passages like this:

11  “I, the Sovereign LORD, tell you that I myself will look for my sheep and take care of them 12  in the same way as shepherds take care of their sheep that were scattered and are brought together again. I will bring them back from all the places where they were scattered on that dark, disastrous day. 13  I will take them out of foreign countries, gather them together, and bring them back to their own land. I will lead them back to the mountains and the streams of Israel and will feed them in pleasant pastures. 14  I will let them graze in safety in the mountain meadows and the valleys and in all the green pastures of the land of Israel. 15  I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will find them a place to rest. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken. 16  “I will look for those that are lost, bring back those that wander off, bandage those that are hurt, and heal those that are sick; but those that are fat and strong I will destroy, because I am a shepherd who does what is right. Ezekiel 34:11-16 (TEV)

This is our God, the Shepherd who diligently searches for His sheep, to bring them to restoration.  Who hears our prayers, our cries, our grief.  Who longs to rejoice when they come home.  Who will never stop working to grant them repentance, transformation. You are not alone in your desire, and knowing that, we can find the patient hope we need to wait.  We can find sustenance and rest.  We can entrust them to God, knowing His love, and we can entrust ourselves to God at the same time.

Find you rest, your strength in Him. Know the peace of God, and that we can be like the Donkeys that Josemaria encourages us to be like. ( instead of the jackasses we could become! ) Faithful, stubbornly holding out hope, persevering, taking the right steps, one at a time, knowig our Master will guide us, for we dwell in His presence…..

And hopeful, for the Lord Almighty hasn’t forgotten our loved ones for a moment….

Lord, I pray for my friends, who children and grandchildren are caught up in things beyond them.  Who have strayed, who have lost for the moment in darkness, in fog.  Lord, be with them, and with those they love.  Bring hope, bandage the wounds, given strength and sustain them.  Help us to realize that You are reaching out to them, calling them to come home, and give us patience until we see them in Your Hands.  We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, the Savior, who lies and reigns with you an the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  AMEN

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1488-1490). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

That’s Not FAIR! Part II of “Backseat conversations on the way to Heaven”

Backseat Conversations on the Way to HeavenMy Church's Building - our goal - to see it restored and filled with people who find healing in Christ Jesus, while helping others heal

That’s not FAIR!!
Matthew 20:1-16

 IHS

 

As we journey together, may we know the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit, the peace of Jesus Christ, and look forward to the feast with our Heavenly Father.

Two Candy Bars and some Chuckles
Last week we started on this path, a sermon series that will explore the journey of our lives.  It is a parable of sorts, comparing that journey, where we will end up in heaven, with our journey as children, on the way to an Aunt’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, or maybe our Grandfather’s for the party on Christmas Eve.

Last week we looked a little at the squabbles that can happen, as you jam three young children in the backseat of a 1970 Dodge Dart, and heard the conversation that would ensue when my dad would tell us to “get along back there.”

Well, today we continue that journey, hearing another conversation.

My dad had a lot of common sense.  He knew that If we were eating something, our mouths couldn’t open.  And on so many of these trips he had stashed our favorite candies in the car.  A Chocolate Charleston Chew for one of my siblings, a Chunky chocolate bar for the other, and because I was allergic to chocolate, I got a pack of chuckles.

This worked until one day, when one looked at other’s candy bar, and saw a long narrow bar – nearly 10 inches long!  She looked at my Chuckles and saw six pieces of candy, each about an inch long.  And she looked at her chunky bar, 3 inches by 3 inches and proceeded to yell out,

“It’s not fair!”

She didn’t see the weight of the candy bars as equal, or that hers was three times as thick and wide, or that all of the candy cost the same amount.  Explaining that to her, well, anyone ever try to point out such logic to an upset young child.

It wasn’t fair as she saw it, and when two brothers have to share and sacrifice their favorite candy, and they do understand the logic, well, now the journey becomes more complicated!

But we are often like little children, complaining that life isn’t fair.

We end up just like the crew who sweated all day in the hot sun, and didn’t get a larger payday than the guys who put in an hour.

We need to realize the blessing in that… we need to see God’s view of this, so we can rejoice in how God cares for His people.

Why did they cry it wasn’t fair?

If Jesus’ parable were told today, a number of us would probably be telling the employees who broke their back all day long to contact a lawyer, or to call Handel on the Law.  Certainly there is a law out there, that demands the same exact hourly wage for all employees.

Some of us might take the Master’s side, saying that he can do whatever he wants, after all it is his money.

The story might even go viral on Facebook, and there would be interviews on Youtube, and maybe even an appearance on some daytime talk show like Dr. Phil, or Dr. Oz, or Judge Judy.

After all, it’s not like it’s fair, what this employer did.

Unless…..

What did our Old Testament reading say?

His Ways aren’t our ways

8  “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 9  For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

Could it be that this Master’s goal wasn’t about getting the vineyard harvested?

Could it be that he was more concerned about the people in his life, the people of his community, than he was about making money?

Think about this, he started at 6 am, then returned to hire workers at 9, 12, and 3 o’clock, each time he saw workers standing around, doing nothing.   The first time – he negotiated a wage that was fair and equitable – after that, the scriptures tell us he simply promised to be fair.

It is that last time, at five o’clock, which he didn’t just see some workers, the Greek word there is the root word from where we get heuristics.   Anybody here watch CSI, or NCIS?  Heuristics is the science of finding that which was hidden, not in sight.  He went to them, found them, and hear again the description of His action,

“6 “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’ “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’ “The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’ “

It was his desire, not to gain a harvest, but to provide for the people what they needed, to be part of His work, His life.

And so it is, with the kingdom of heaven.

God would provide for us what we need.

As a pastor, I’m often approached with the question of who will be in heaven. What about the people that come to know God’s love on their death bed, minutes before they pass away.  Do they get into heaven, or does God punish them for all the years they refused to follow Him, and they don’t get to go into heaven?

Usually the question involves the people most people would consider beyond any chance to be saved.  Would God let them into heaven, if they repented at the last moment?

If I answer in the affirmative, knowing that the power of God is so incredible to transform us, sometimes I hear those words, “But that’s not fair pastor!”

You mean that mass murdered could get the same blessing that those of us who’ve been in church every Sunday… ok one Sunday a month get?  They get the same size mansion as those of us who served as preschool teachers, or elders, or deacons?

Yes, and that is the incredible blessing of your working alongside God in His harvest.  They are blessed to come into our family, to have the grace and mercy and peace that God has desired for all of us.

Remember again – what the Old Testament said,

7  Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. 8  “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 

There is God’s goal, to take all of us, who struggle with doing what is loving, what is merciful, what is right, and can’t.  There is His love, for He finds us, this Father/master who will bring us into His marvelous life’s work.

That is better than just being fair from a human perspective, it God being extravagant in his love.  This is what we call justification – God making us right, forgiving our sins, and sanctification, God setting us apart making us His co-workers in His work.  If God were fair, would He share with us His desires, His life?  Would He trust us enough to serve alongside Him?

God is more than just fair; He is extravagant beyond all measure.

God, bringing us into His ministry to the world, making us part of the family.

All this because Jesus Christ, true God, true man, didn’t give a rip about what was fair, and died that we could all become the children of God.

That’s what the kingdom of God is about; His love for us, making it known and seeing it transform us.

This is a love that brings mercy and peace into our lives, a peace beyond measure, the peace we know and celebrate here, together.  For we are His people.  AMEN?

His Plan His Desire take II

 so here is the revision – well not quite, the revision was revised during delivery, and after I listen to it – I may find a way to post it here – or somewhere else….. but here is take two – with much more focus on the idea of our being adopted….
 

His Plan, His Desire, His People, “in Christ”!

Ephesians 1:3-14

 In Jesus Name


May our lives bless our Father in Heaven, as it is revealed to us that He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing! AMEN!

Too personal?  Yeah… so what

It is one of those things that is hard to explain, but every time I preach on this epistle passage, I overlook the obvious connection I have to it.  Perhaps it is because it is too personal, to talk about what it means to be adopted, or I find a way to gloss over it. Make the connection, and move on.

The emotional overload that comes, when discussing the challenges that face an adopted kid are immense – there are incredible joys, and yet incredible questions,  In my case, having met my birth mom 6 years ago this week – there is knowing the incredible love of two mothers, both of whom were intimately involved in making me, you pastor.  I am truly blessed, but even more so when I realize how different, more incredible God’s adoption of all us is…

Preaching on God adopting us is somewhat challenging then, as describing God making us His children opens levels of stuff I am not used to letting people see.  So, I usually don’t.  I come up with other ways to explain it, but a quick online comment of my high school coach made me change this sermon this morning….

But it is important to grasp the intimacy, the intentionality in God’s choice, in God wanting to make us His children, and in paying the price to process it – the price of Christ’s blood.  For if we understand God’s choice,

So be aware, this sermon may be a little rougher than usual, as I re-wrote the sermon this morning, knowing I had to bring it up this way….

For we need to grasp what it means for God to choose us, to bring us into the Family that is the Trinity, to grasp this incredible blessing

Chose us in Him

On April 1st, 1965, when Thomas and Marie Parker went to Catholic Charities in Lawrence, Massachusetts, they weren’t sure what they were getting themselves into.  They had been waiting to adopt a girl, but they had been called a few days before.  The couple originally slated to get me had panicked, or maybe had a vision, and bailed on the process. Some have said that April 1st date was very appropriate…

My folks came and got me, adopted me as their own, and would eventually get the daughter a few years later.  I used to joke with my friends that while their parents were stuck with them, mine chose me. But they didn’t choose me, they chose to adopt, if they had only known what they were getting themselves into…

God’s a bit different.  He knows all about us, every moment of our lives… and chooses to adopt us.  Paul tells us that the Father has “chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”

It is in choosing us, that we find every spiritual blessing coming upon us, it is there that that we realize that we aren’t just after thoughts in God’s plan, but indeed the focus of His will, and His desire.  From before the foundation of the earth, He has chosen mankind to have a special relationship with Him, and demonstrated that choice by placing us in Christ.

There, we find out what He has chosen us for, to be His children, adopted because of Jesus Christ, for it is in Christ that we are found to be holy and blameless, set apart for something special, with nothing able to mar or change that choice.  To share in the life and love of God, in what sounds amazing – to become part of that relationship that exists between the Father and the Son and the Spirit.  To share in such a relationship, as one of my friends has described it in a song – to join in the Trinity’s dance.

This indeed Paul tells us is no accident, it was a choice made from before the foundation of the world.   It is the very purpose of His will – or as another translation explains it – it is the plan to achieve God’s greatest desire.  Peter phrases it this way,

3:9 The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 (NJB)

The Lord’s choice, to choose you in Him, in Christ…knowing everything about you…

Riches of His gift, lavished upon us

When my parents adopted me, there was little idea of the costs, financial, emotional, the nights sitting with me in the hospital over the years, the shock of finding out I have Marfans and the complications it brings.. the challenges they faced because of the odd person I am, but they didn’t know the cost.  That is where God the Father adopting us is so radically different.  He did know the cost… the cost of adopting us, of making us holy and blameless was very high.  Paul writes in verse 7.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
In Christ’s death, we have been paid for, our lives purchased at the price of His sacrifice on the cross.  He did this that because of the great grace, the gift which he lavishes upon us, why?  Even more incredibly, Hebrews tells us it was for joy that Christ embraced that payment – as He, loving each of us, embraced that cross.

Paul calls this the making known of the mystery of His will, this incredible grace lavished upon us, as God picks us up in our brokenness, and instead of throwing us away, carefully repairs and heals us, bringing us into Himself, that we might be one with Him.  Imagine everything perfect, in His presence, a place where doors don’t creak and neither do our bodies, where our relationships are finally the way they should be, including our relationship with our Father, where we finally let God be God, and we rejoice in knowing we are His children, His people, His chosen people.

This is our lot for all eternity, that which God has planned for us!  It is  the life God has given to us, this great mystery of why He would choose us to be His children, that even as He makes this true now, we struggle to realize it, for we struggle to realize we are in Christ, we are in the Beloved son of God, and therefore share in the Father’s love.

How we got there?

We are the children of the king – waiting for that moment when we reach full maturity, when we share in His kingdom.  It is true now, and yet like a child waiting to reach the age of inheritance, we struggle with it. Indeed, we need to be reminded of it often, and how and when this incredible thing happened.

Paul explains it in verse 13

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

It’s the same story throughout scripture – the way we become His children, according to His plan is when we hear the truth – the truth of His love for us, that is this gospel, this good news.

It is the message of His love that causes us to trust in Him, to believe in Him, to realize that our very lives are in His hands, and that this is a good thing!

That when we were baptized, God marked us, He sealed us as His children, the sign of the cross is what we were marked with, that even as we share in Christ’ death, we too share in His resurrection, for we live in Him.

That has been His plan all along, a plan we have only begun to realize.  We are still children, waiting for our inheritance to become ours.  Waiting to reach the maturity of Christ, when we visibly know we are in His kingdom.
Until that day, we have a guarantee, a down payment if you will.  Something incredibly wonderful, something beyond our comprehension!  The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, what Peter describes as the gift of God’s Spirit, which Paul will also describe as our being the temple – the living place of the Spirit of God, the one called the Comforter, the Lord and Giver of life…

Here, in us, even as we dwell in Him….even as we are, right now, His children. His heirs, as we live in the Beloved.  Chosen by Him, chosen to be in Him, adopted as His. With all the knowledge of who we are, what we’ve done…..

He made us His.

So knowing this we can rejoice as Paul does and declare, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places… for we live in Christ.  AMEN?

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