Blog Archives

What are you jealous about? A sermon on Matthew 21:1-16a

church at communion 2What Are You Jealous About?

Matt 21:1-16a

I.H.S.

 As you see the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus revealed in your life, may it cause great joy, such joy that you are completely content with all God has provided!!

Jealousy, the hidden beast

I can’t remember whose party it was, or the names of the guilty or innocent, but today’s parable of the vineyard brought it back to my memory.

There were two boys, about the same age, maybe somewhere between 3 and 5.  One came from a richer family and had all the stuff. The other one, from a much poorer family. They were at the same gathering and were opening up gifts.  Maybe it was Christmas, I don’t remember.

I just remember the richer kid taking the presents of the poorer kid because he wasn’t satisfied with his own.  So the poorer child, using his imagination, began to play with the boxes the gifts came in, turning them into magical toys with his imagination.  The rich kid came along again and took the boxes to play with.  So, the poor kid used the wrapping paper out of the trash bag.  Again, the rich kid, seeing the poor kid having more fun, tried to take the wrapping paper away.

Jealousy is an ugly thing.  We recognize it with other terms, those like envy, and coveting.

We see it in the parable of the vineyard, where a merciful landowner decides to bless those who hadn’t found a day’s worth of work with a day’s pay.  Even though the people who worked all day got the amount they negotiated for, the amount they worked hard all day expecting to get, they cried out, “it’s not fair!”

Like the rich kid never satisfied as long as the poor kid had fun, they couldn’t find satisfaction with the blessings of another person.

And they aren’t the only ones!

Could we be jealous of a baptism?  They why lesser providence?

Last week, we got to witness David Herrera III’s baptism.

Can you imagine someone grumbling about that?  Someone saying, hey, why is that child getting baptized, we should save that act, those moments in the service for someone who deserves those blessings!  Can we imagine someone saying, no let’s never baptized anyone else, no one who isn’t baptized deserves to be!

Why in the world would anyone be jealous of God blessing another person?  Of Him calling another person to be one of His very own people?

Can jealousy be that consuming?  Can envy be so evil as to even demand that someone not is blessed by God?  The Jewish people would be that way, ignoring all the promises of how us Gentiles would be saved by God.

That is what jealousy does, and if we shouldn’t be jealous of something as incredible as salvation, should we be envious of the little things God blesses us with in life?

What is it in us that makes us want to be blessed more than our neighbor?  What is it that thinks they challenges aren’t as tough, that somehow, we would be more content with their lives, rather than the lives God has gifted us with?

**Can’t we find contentment with our salvation, and then realize that with that comes not only more than we deserve, but more than we desire?

You see that is the ultimate question, can we be content with our salvation, and simply trust God’s sense of what is just and right for the rest?

The deal is enough

As you look at the discontentment of these people that think they deserved what they earned, we need to see the work of the Lord, of the Landowner.

The first thing we see is that he went out to seek out these people.  We hear the word hire and then the word sent, but the words have a bit more than that to them.

The word for hire comes from the word engage, to embrace these people.  When he sends them out to work – he doesn’t send out hirelings, the word there is apostello – he sends them out with responsibility, with a mission.

We begin to see that more clearly, as all day long he recruits and engages these workers, giving them hope and a reason for the day, even when there wasn’t a hope when all around them seemed worthless when they seemed worthless.

The Landowner’s/Lord’s mission was not about hiring these people, it was about providing for them.

It was about benevolence, about grace, about caring for people.

That’s why the Landowner went into town, it is why the Lord comes to earth, and why He will never abandon us but always, always be with us.

When Pastor Mark, and deacons Bob and Mike and I study passages like this together, one of the questions we ask is, where in this passage is Christ crucified?  Where does the relationship get restored between God and man.

Sometimes it is easy to see in a passage, sometimes it takes some time to think through.

In this passage, the cross is seen in this phrase,: 1  “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out.  The cross is seen in his engaging, in his embrace of the people he hires, whether they are those that believe and work hard from the beginning or those that spend the last moments of the day called by Him.  It is in His relentless pursuit of hiring people, of calling them to receive the wage of His day, the wage they didn’t really have a right to, unless He called them.

This is the deepest lesson of grace, the greatest of entitlements that God determines we all should receive.  That we would know His love, that we could share with Him eternity.

One last thought, for years I thought the good kid was the poor one, the one who found joy no matter what.  I think, as I look at this passage, the child was wrong as well.  What he had, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, he needed to share with his cousin.  For what he had was joy, and that was what his cousin wanted more than anything.

May we share our joy, the joy that comes from knowing the peace of God because we are found engaged, embraced by Jesus.  And no one can steal that joy away.  For He keeps, He guards, our hearts, and souls, for they are His, bought with the price of His blood.

AMEN!!!

God says, “I WILL BRING…” A Sermon/Homily on Isaiah 56

church at communion 2God says, “I WILL BRING…”
Isaiah 56:1-3a, 6-8

I pray that you realize the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ which has gathered you into His presence here and that you would realize you aren’t just invited to be here, God desires your presence here!

Doing Right and Good defined…

In the first verses of the fifty-sixth chapter of Isaiah, we heard this morning that God wanted us to do this,

“Be just and fair to all, do what is right and good, for I am coming soon to rescue you, and to display my righteousness among you.  Blessed are all those who are careful to do this,  Blessed are those who honor my sabbath days of rest and keep themselves from doing wrong….”

That’s a great promise, but perhaps a bit vague.  What is right and good to do, what is just and fair?  We might have our own ideas, but God gives us a great picture of it in the verse that follows us,

“Don’t let the foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD say, “The LORD will never let me be a part of His people.”

This isn’t just God commanding us to do this, this work He asks us to do is revealed in the 6-8th verses as His action, as He blesses those who are committed to His care.  He pours out the blessings upon them, even as He has on every single one of us.

And so what God is calling us to do is imitate Him, to share His heart towards people He has created, to have His heart and love all those He loves.

It’s not going to be easy… it is, in fact, it will cause us to take up our cross, this call to follow him.

Who are these outcast & foreigners?

This passage shows two groups of people God loves, foreigners and those who are called outcasts.  Or as Deacon Bob is preaching about right now, those people who think they can’t be admitted to our club.

And we need to make sure they never, ever think this…. We can’t let them say, “The Lord will never let me be a part of HIS people!”

The first group is simple – they are people who aren’t like us, who don’t share our genes, or our language, or our culture, or economic or social status. Some translations use foreigner, some describe them as alien, some stranger.  Given our church’s makeup, I think he’s talking about Australians because we have members from just about everywhere else!  Guyana, Germany, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Indonesia, we even love people from places like Boston and Hemet!  Yet the command is to make sure they don’t think and say that God won’t let them be part of us.

Some people still struggle to feel comfortable in our presence, and it is our role to help those who God brings here to know they are welcome, that they are part of His people, and therefore part of us.

God is calling us to proactively make sure they know they are welcome,

In verse 8, God adds in another group – those who are outcast.

Back in the days when Moses and Israel left Egypt and were wandering around the desert, hen the Old Covenant was given to the people of Israel, there were a number of sins that could be committed that would require the sinner to leave the camp of the people of God.

Sometimes it was for a day, sometimes it was for life.

Basically, until they served their time, they were outcast, they had to make do for themselves, they weren’t welcome among the people of God. They were the recognized sinners, or those that condoned the sin that was committed. They were the outcasts, the sinners rejected by their own people, who also rejected themselves.  Never again would the joy be theirs, or so they thought.

Ever been there?  Ever been in a situation where you weren’t in the in group, where you didn’t understand what was going on, or wonder whether you were part of the church?

Ever wonder if you were beyond God’s desire to forgive, beyond His mercy?  Either because people treated you that way, or because you simply felt to guilty?

Ever treated people like they weren’t?

Or maybe, like me, you have been all of the above…

Time to hear God, time to make the foreigner and the outcast welcome..

Filling us with joy!

I want you to hear the gospel from the Old Testament again,

6  “I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant. 7  I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. 8  For the Sovereign LORD, who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says: I will bring others, too, besides my people Israel.” Isaiah 56:6-8 (NLT)

These promises aren’t just basic entry, by saying that God will accept their offerings, because God is hearing their pray- the prayer of all people, he’s talking about full membership in this family.

Not half-sister, or step brother, but complete membership in the house of God….
For those who were once outcast, victims of their own sin, and who were once foreigners.  They are family, because of the love of Jesus on the cross, the cross where we were all made family.

We need to understand, and we need to share with people – that Christ died for all.  For you and for me, for people from every language, every tribe, ever culture.  For people of every economic group and from every generation.

Jesus died for them all. Every person in Cerritos, Artesia, Norwalk, Buena Park, Cypress, La Palma, Whittier.

All those who are different, all those who have sinned and belong somewhere besides a house of prayer.

Jesus changed all that, as Isaiah prophesied, as God unites us to him on the cross, cleansing us of the sin that could have prevented us from being here.

We need to know this, we need to understand that God died for us, that we might live, and we need to welcome all who would know this, that would come to adore the God who loves us all.

Which is why we have hope, no matter where we’ve come from, no matter what we’ve done wrong. HE can and will restore us!  We have hope because of Christ’s death and resurrection for us all.
AMEN!

 

Do You Understand This? A Sermon on Matthew 13’s parables of the Treasure and the Pearl.

church at communion 2Do You Understand This?
Matthew 13:44-62

I.H.S.

My prayer for you as you read this sermon:  As you think about the grace and mercy of God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord, may you understand that God has found what He treasures, in you!

Do you understand this?

Toward the end of our gospel reading today there is a question that we need to hear, that we need to take seriously.

Do you understand all these things?

Do you understand this?  What Jesus is talking about are these groups of parables. Called parables of the Kingdom because Jesus says each is an example of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Do we get what it means for someone to search for treasure, and for a merchant to search the world for the perfect pearl/

Do we understand what it would cost to buy the field, what would be given up in exchange for the pearl?

The price is pretty high….

And if we don’t understand the price to be paid, we need to…

Just as we need to understand these words of the Apostle Paul.

17  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:17-19 (NLT)

That observation of St. Paul’s has everything to do with the treasure and the pearl… and understanding them!

We need to understand the incredible love of God for us… and then we can unlock the meaning of parables with great ease!

Chasing after the treasure?

One of our challenges in understanding this passage is that we are so used to searching out chasing after things.  We’ve forgotten how to be content with what God has blessed us with.

People search for and struggle to find the perfect career, and the perfect path in that career.  So they change careers now, four or more times in their lives. Wait, I’ve only had three… HHmmmm

People chase after the perfect home, or the perfect community, the perfect family with our children and grandchildren having everything that will make their lives perfect as they grow up.

And of course, some of us chased after our spouses – until they sprung their trap…err they let us catch them.  😉

It is no wonder then that most hear this parable about the treasure and the pearl and think, well – we must find the kingdom of God, we have to find the treasure in the field.  Preachers like Billy Graham and Greg Laurie encourage us to give up everything to decide to make Jesus our Lord and Savior.  In effect, to see this passage this way means we save ourselves, we redeem ourselves.

But it is the way we’ve heard it, so we design church services and our evangelism programs to help people seeking to find the treasure, assuming they will recognize it when they see it, and that they will want to give up everything for something they barely understand.

Except that it doesn’t work that way.

When we are in bondage to sin, when we are buried and tarnished by the weight of this broken world, we don’t have the energy or power to save ourselves. We don’t have the ability to find the true treasure and even if we did, what could you give up that is valuable enough to give to purchase heaven?

What could we trade of equal value that would redeem us from sin and the brokenness it causes?

We aren’t the treasure hunters, we aren’t the merchants trying to find the perfect, priceless pearl.

So if we aren’t?  Who is?

Being found

The simple answer is God.  He is the one who came to seek and save the lost.  Jesus is the one who gave up everything and took on the role of the servant.  In each of the parables in this chapter, God is at work, harvesting us, causing the church to grow.

Paul described it in our second reading this way,

30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.

We need to struggle with, and come to accept that we are His treasure, we are His Pearl of incredible value.  Here are some other ways this is described,

17  “They will be my people,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. Malachi 3:17 (NLT)

5  Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6  And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ Exodus 19:5-6 (NLT)

18  He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. James 1:18 (NLT)

And of course,

10  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

This is what Paul means by exploring the incredible dimensions of God’s love for us, to explore how broad and wide, how high and deep.

It is the love we have to learn to ocunt on, depend on, have faigh in, even when we don’t seem to shine like a pearl, or we seem to tarnished and pitted to be His treasure.

God is the one who found us, He is the one who gave up everything for us. This is who we are, the people that God treasures, and loves to the extent that Jesus died for us. We We heard Moses explained it to Israel, words that are true for us,

 ! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God.

So my dear friends. know you are treasured, and that God treasures everyone that you know, they just need to hear it from God, through you and me.

AMEN!

God, We NEED to Talk! A sermon on Jeremiah 20:7-13

Combined 4God, We need to Talk!

Jeremiah 20:7-13

 In Jesus Name

 Our prayer for you is that you grow in your experience and knowledge of the grace and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ to where you can trust Him and be completely honest with God!  AMEN!

God, We have to Talk!

The Old Testament passage this morning one that describes a prophet of incredible faith, one who knows His God.

He is also very frustrated, and perhaps even a bit paranoid.  Definitely, Jeremiah is a bit tired and weary, and part of this is that people don’t always hear everything he has said, and their criticism and threats he takes personally.

He doesn’t just complain, he doesn’t just whine, he wants to talk to God, and let God have it!

Our English translation uses the word deceived, other translations use misled, tricked, fooled me.  What kind of prophet is this, that thinks he can talk to God like that!  To accuse God the Father of deceiving him?

He is a man of great faith.

Yes, I said he is man of great faith, and I pray that our faith grows enough to be that open and honest with God.  Let me explain.

Can We Be honest with God? (Can we whine/complain to Him?)

Can we be honest with God?  Can we accuse Him of deceiving us or misleading us? Can questioning God, even challenging Him, be an act of faith?

For Jeremiah this wasn’t about God promising him a nice house, a new car and a easy good paying job.  This was about ministry and care, about Jeremiah trying to shepherd God’s people back to him.   God called him to this work, much like God calls Timothy and myself to be pastors and prepare to ministry.  Just as God calls people to serve as church musicians, or on boards and teams, even as God calls us all to be involved in making disciples of people from every ethnicity, every culture, every language.

This work God has given His people isn’t easy, and there are times where the people God would have us minister to are challenging.  There are times people who don’t know about God think what they know is the truth, and don’t listen to all the story.  For while we are here to tell them about God’s love, they also must know that His love cannot leave them broken in sin.  They often don’t like to hear that, and neither do we.

Jeremiah was trying to do that, and they wouldn’t listen long enough to hear about God’s mercy, and God’s desire to cleanse them of their sin and heal them of their brokenness.  They only heard that they needed to repent and be forgiven.

They didn’t like that, and they attacked and threatened Jeremiah over his life time many times.

So Jeremiah says, “Hey God, we need to talk, I thought serving you would be easier.  You didn’t tell me about the rejection, the pain of watching people continue to struggle in their brokenness.  You didn’t tell me when I went to them they would attack, yet you still want me to do this? You still want me to reach out to people – to call them back to you, Lord?”

Jeremiah will go on to try and quit, to say he will never talk about God in verse 9, even that he will try to forget about God.  He is that tired, that frustrated, that burnt out from caring and trying to call people back into their relationship with God. To call unbelievers to the cross, to call believers back there.

But Jeremiah can’t do that, he can’t keep the message of God inside himself, it is too powerful, to incredible, to glorious.  His people need to know God’s love and that God will stand by them, and stand by us during our struggle.

God stands by us?

We start to see that in verse 11, “11  But you, LORD, are on my side, strong and mighty”. Jeremiah 20:11 (TEV)

and again in verse 13, ” 13  Sing to the LORD! Praise the LORD! He rescues the oppressed from the power of evil people. Jeremiah 20:13 (TEV)

When we are honest with God, when we don’t hide our hurts, we see Him at work. Then our faith, our trust grows stronger in Him, we become more aware of His presence, His guiding us, His listening to our prayers, and yes, even our complaints and our whining.  He’s willing to remind us He is here, and this is His work.  The Holy Spirit guides us all to Jesus, who died and rose so that our sins would be forgiven, that we could be God’s children. That we could know He has rescued us, and stands with us.

Jeremiah’s message resonates with the future, and the hope that the people of God have, a hope we know, when at the end of the day we remember He cleanses us from sin, He rescues us, and He stands by our side.  For He loves us, and is patient with us, not wanting any to perish, but that all of us come to repentance.  Even when we are tired, even when they are stubborn.  God is still at work.

Standing by us, strengthening our faith, our awareness of Him.  Even as we serve and minister to each other and the world.  Even when we struggle doing it.

Knowing this, we realize we dwell in His peace, peace the world cannot understand, but  the peace in which we are guarded in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

It’s Time to Make Jesus Known!

     church at communion 2It’s Time to Make Him Known!

Acts 17:16-31

I.H.S.†

 May you see Christ so clearly revealed through His word and sacraments, that the grace of God our Father, and our Lord shine brightly through you, to those who need to know His name!

Deeply Troubled, Are We?

Imagine walking around Athens as Paul did, waiting for his friends to show up.  This capital city, formerly the capital of the world, this place that might cause wonder, disturbed him greatly.

Scripture says he was deeply troubled, deeply and profoundly bothered by what he saw, what he experienced.  Wherever he looked there was idolatry, people trying to find hope, and looking to man-made things to provide hope.

Broken, weary, unfulfilled desires become even more broken as their false gods revealed themselves to be nothing but a bunch of rocks.  These people that were searching for answers, those who led them who loved to hear of new thoughts about God, they all needed a God to depend upon, a God to turn to, a God that would be there, a God who would help.

It wasn’t the first time, 600 years before, Diogenes records that Epimenides, a philosopher from Crete was sent for because no one had an answer to their problems, a plague, a drought, a famine all at once went through the land.  Epimenides looked at all the temples, all these false gods and idols and suggested that the answer was that their prayers and sacrifices didn’t work because they didn’t know the real God they could pray to….

And so they made an altar to an unknown God, and prayed, and dedicated an altar with the words agnosto theo – and dedicated the altar to the unknown and real God, asking Him to save them, asking Him to hear their prayers.  For a few centuries they remembered this God and His mercy, then, like many others, they forgot this nameless, faceless, benevolent God.
As Paul arrives, the altar was probably near ruins, the story all but was forgotten, and the people were back to looking anywhere for an answer.

But it was time to make this God known… even as it is today.

Can People Pray to A God they Don’t know?  Will He answer them?

This passage plays havoc with what are called closed theological systems, or those systems that people close off themselves. It has caused a lot of debate, especially among conservative Lutherans.  Because it isn’t beautiful and tidy, and God doesn’t fit in our box.

For example, there is the question of people praying to a God whom they don’t know.

We know we can’t find God if all we are using is our own reason and strength, that is solid, basic theology.  But does that stop them from looking for Him?  Does that stop them from praying to Him, begging Him for help.. and to reveal that He is present here.

Well, rather than just say yes, let me share a few passages, starting with today’s reading,

27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist.

11  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

and then this from Solomon’s dedication of the temple

41  “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, 42  for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, 43  then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name. 1 Kings 8:41-43 (NLT)

And one more, from the Large Catechism, one of the primary documents describing our faith,

All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.[1]

Unless of course, someone reveals God to them, as God desires!

So is it wrong for people to pray, even if they aren’t sure who God is?  Will He hear their cries and respond?

Of course, for He desires to draw them close, to save and deliver them into His Father’s presence. Scripture tells us this is God’s will, His desire, to draw everyone to Himself, to cleanse them from sin, to restore them as His children.  He will never force us, but He will always hear us and care and love us.

Paul was sent to Athens by the Lord to do what he did, to reveal to them that He was their Creator, but also that He was their redeemer. He died and rose from the dead so that He could judge the world, and judge us just, righteous, holy, the people who could cry out to Him.

If you kept on reading, Paul would speak to them more about the resurrection from the dead that he mentions in verse 31.  There Paul mentioned that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead,   Some would stop listening to then, others wanted to hear more about it later, including some very learned people.
They heard about the God who would come and die, to deliver them from sin, and the power of death.  They would hear about the God who rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven, the God who would draw us to Jesus lifted on the cross, where we would die with Him, our sin nailed to that cross.  And then, as He rose from the dead, so do we, forgiven, cleansed, separated from sin, now children of the Father.

For the unknown God has made Himself known, and calls us to be transformed and trust in Him.

And so we do, the broken finding healing in Jesus, while we reveal Him to others as Paul did.

This is our life in Christ, for in Him we live and move and exist. For we are His children.  AMEN!

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

He has Risen! He has Risen Indeed! And…

church at communion 2He has Risen! He Has Risen Indeed!

And… therefore….

Colossians 2:10-12

† In Jesus Name †

As we celebrate Easter, as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, may you realize your part in it, for the grace of God has brought you to life in and with Him.  AMEN!

The earlier sermon… Our union with Christ… 

You have already heard a sermon this morning.  Rather you’ve seen it happen, you witnessed what my poor words will attempt to describe.

Paul says it this way, in our epistle reading.

You are complete through your union with Jesus.

Complete, whole, perfect, lacking nothing.

What became true for Damon, Madelynn and Rosemarie, and is true for everyone who trusts in the mighty power of God is because of this incredible union, being united with Christ’s death and resurrection.

That is the incredible miracle of God that occurs in our baptism, as we are united with Jesus, and then we die and are resurrected with Him.

Our need for circumcision

The apostle Paul, in this epistle, this letter to a young new church, explains the work that God does in baptism using the illustration of circumcision. He writes,

11  When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature.

He talks about our sin nature here, that ability we have to get ourselves into trouble, that ability we have which feeds our desires, no matter the cost to us.

It’s not just about the sin, it’s not just about the failures, there is something deeper there, that causes us to implode, to choose self-destructive things, to even argue these things are good for us. That self-destructive behavior, that’s our struggle with our sin nature. It is strong and powerful, overruling our heart and mind at times.

And we were unable to do anything about it…no one without God in their lives can, we struggle and struggle and just fall short.

We need help, supernatural help. 

Our circumcision…

That is where Jesus brings the idea of circumcision into this picture of baptism uniting us with His death.  The word in Greek for circumcision means to cut around – to carefully, with surgical precision, cut and remove something.  That is what Paul is talking about when he says

Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12  For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life

In the case of baptism – it pictures our dying, and when we come back to life, there is something missing.  That sin nature that so oppressed us, so controlled us, so kept us in bondage.

it’s been cut away, nailed to the cross of Christ,

Paul’s letter to the Romans explains it again

5  Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6  We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.
Romans 6:5-6 (NLT)

And to the church in Galatia he wrote,

19  For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. 20  My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:19-20 (NLT)

I could go on and on with the ways scripture describes out being separated and cleansed of our sin. But that is only part of the process to the greater blessing, the forgiveness, the separation of you and your sinful nature is but a description of what it leads us into, our new life in Christ.

Our Hope of Glory …

Earlier this week, a friend asked me what my favorite scripture was.  My answer without hesitation was this,

9  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NLT)

This is what Easter is about, this incredible plan God has for us, the very reason for the cross and why the church obeys the command to make disciples by baptizing and teaching them to treasure everything God establishes.  It is through this work God does through us, that we are made whole and complete, and are given the Holy Spirit to help us live in a such a different life.

To live in a relationship with the God who not only created us, but deeply loves us.  To get to know Him, through our talking to Him in prayer and meditating on His word, searching it out as we explore how deep, how high, how wide, how broad this love is that He has for us.

Whose plan for us is to dwell eternally with Him, sharing in His glory, dwelling in the purest love.

This is what this is all about, this being complete as we are united with Jesus. About being recreated as the children of God, about knowing His peace, it is about knowing Him!

And may you always know that peace of God which is beyond anything we can understand, the peace that is ours in Christ Jesus AMEN!

 

An Odd Responsibility: A Lenten Sermon on Ephesians 5

church at communion 2An Odd Responsibility

Ephesians 5:8-14

I.H.S.

May you enjoy the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and in that joy, may He shine through you to a broken world!

 An Odd Responsibility

Of all the things scripture tells us to do, the one we heard in the first reading today may be the oddest.

I mean we are encouraged to love God, to love our neighbor, to love even our enemy.  We are told to honor our parents, be faithful to our wives and husbands, to care for our children. We are told to no gossip, and be content rather than being jealous of what others are blessed with by God.

None of these are easy, but then we hear this one today, and they seem.. better defined?

Here it is again,

“Carefully determine what pleases the Lord”

Across all of the Bible translations in English that I have, two of them use acceptable, and one uses “what God wants of you”.  The rest use the word please, or pleasing.  Knowing the Greek word behind it doesn’t help that much – it means good pleasure – or causing or creating peace.

So we are responsible for… making God’s life good?

That seems a bit odd.

And more than a little difficult!  How are we supposed to figure this out?  Even more concurring,, how can we accomplish it?

I mean if God can’t find peace or be pleased, how are we to see that happen?

The Darkness that consumes and burdens

I mean, at least for me, I feel that life is often just a longer edition of that feeling when you are asleep and someone comes in and turns on the 250 watt light in your bedroom in order to wake you up.

You know, the disorientation, the inability to really see clearly, the pain of looking at everything in harsh, painful more powerful than the sun – light?

Spiritually the world seems that dark at times, as people stumble around, not sure of what is right, but absolutely convinced of what is not good.  Sometimes we even justify staying in the dark, because if we saw what was truly going on, the shock and horror would be even more overwhelming.

If the darkness hides the world’s evil deeds and intentions, it can also do the same thing for us, hiding the thoughts, words, and deeds that we are personally ashamed of, the failures that haunt us, that cause us shame.  Yet the spiritual darkness gives us the illusion that no one sees those things, no one else knows them, even God.

The darkness may seem comforting, it may seem safe, but spiritual darkness and ignorance has severe problems, Guilt, shame, loneliness, despair, and the pervasive darkness which causes us to live without hope, without any healing of our soul, or the relationships that break.

The work of the light

 So into this darkness that oppresses more than it relieves, that hides from the world but not our conscience, comes the glory of Christ.

it takes us a while to get used to it.  At first, we might think that the light is the spotlight used to interrogate us, like the third-degree interrogations in old war and spy movies.  For it does reveal the dark shameful things, the thoughts and words and deeds of the past that haunt us.

We need to understand that rather than being an interrogation tool, this is the light by which God examines us, to cut away that which isn’t of us, the sin and unrighteousness, the shame and the grief, the pain and resentment, and the light which strengthens and allows our souls to heal.

It takes a while to get used to, to learn to welcome, but as Paul promises,

“This light within you produces only what is good, and right, and true.”


This light, this glory of God so shows things for what they are that we let God remove them from our lives.

Which is why we can live without them, though it may take a while to realize that, as we wander around, trying to get used to walking in the light, as those people who are the people of light.

This is what grace is, this is why we are here, to help each other realize we aren’t alone in this world, that we can live lives where forgiveness is more powerful than brokenness, where reconciliation is always possible, and is desired by God. That not only can we desire to grow in holiness, we can see God at work in us, transforming us into His holy people.

And this is what we discover pleases Him, it is what He desires, it is what He spent eternity planning, and why Jesus came and died on the cross to shatter our darkness, to remove our sin.  It is what we truly need to understand – that what pleases God is our being His people, trusting in Him, depending on Him to care and provide for us, having faith in the promises He has made us, including forgiving our sins, and make us His holy people, and welcoming us as we dwell in His glory.

And freed from the darkness, freed from its oppression and evil, freed from the guilt and shame it causes, we live in the light, for we have had revealed to us the truth of the old hymn Paul quoted,

We have awoken, We have risen from the dead! For Christ has come and dwelt with us, and we have seen His glory.  AMEN!

Love is, Jesus is, We are: Not Demanding Our Own

church at communion 2Love is, Jesus Is, We are

Not Demanding of our Way

1 Corinthians 13:5

In Jesus Name

 May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ so leave you in awe that you walk humbly with Him, rejoicing in His presence!

Love is not 

The song we just sang, and have sung each week during Lent is a hard one for me to sing.  Simply because it calls me to admit how I feel when I look at what God expects from us when I realize how hard it is to love, to truly love someone else….

When I realize how hard it is for me to love God with everything I am, all of my heart, soul, mind and strength.  To love my neighbor as I love myself.

Especially when loving means that I don’t get what I want, that what is in my best interest, what I think is right has to be set aside.

We hear from Paul that love does not demand its way.  It is not zealous; it doesn’t put all its energy seeking what it desires, what it wants, even what it needs.  Or what it thinks is the right way to go….

And I as read this, the words to that song come to mind…

“my eyes are dry, my faith is old, my heart is hard, my prayers are cold.  And I know how I ought to be, alive to you, and dead…. To me.

I would have thought I would be better at this by this time in my life, that I wouldn’t get so riled up when I didn’t get my way, that I wouldn’t be so hurt when what I know is right is denied by bureaucracy or systems that don’t consider the effect they have on people.

There are still times where I want to shake some sense into people……

You know what I mean?  What were they thinking?  How could they be so blind, so stupid,

and then I read this passage and realize how far I’ve strayed from what God desires….

For even if I am right, even if the way I demand is right, too often in demanding it I will win the battle, but I will lose the war.

Jesus is not

When we consider any aspect of love, it helps to see it in action, and the perfect example is usually Jesus.  Okay, it is always Jesus, for only Jesus was perfect enough to love completely, and only Jesus, in that love provides the cure for when we aren’t loving.

In this case, we could look at the times when people begged for mercy, and Jesus went out of his way to provide it, to provide food for those that wouldn’t leave him alone, and followed him out into the wilderness.

Or we can look in the garden, and see Jesus asking the Father for an option to the cross.

38  He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39  He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Matthew 26:38-39 (NLT)

That certainly is not demanding your way!

And it was done so that you and I could know the depth of God’s love for us, for the cup of suffering he took, included the betrayals, the beatings, the cross,

and death.

He didn’t demand his way, but as Isaiah prophesied, like a lamb, he was silent.

We are not!

So what about us?  How can we whose hearts are dry, whose faith is old, find the strength to love so sacrificially?  How can we deny ourselves and take up our cross, and be silent?

On our own, we cannot.

As God guides Paul to write these words, they are there.  This is what our confessions talk about as the describe the “New Obedience,” the way we begin to live as we trust and depend on God.

As we explore His love, as we come to realize our need and trust in God’s work, the Holy Spirit teaches us we are loved, and brings us to the point where we can love God and those around us.  He shapes us the way an artist draws, guiding our lives as we look to Jesus, as we stand in awe of His love.

The way to love is not just to study the character of Jesus, but to know His love, to look to Him for that love and be amazed, to see the depth of His care for you and those around you, understanding what He promises, and rejoicing and treasuring the hope He gives.

Loving isn’t something that happens easily, but it is something that happens as we know we are loved.

A love that leaves us so at peace, so content, that we simply lay aside everything else to enjoy it, including the way we once so zealously demanded.

That peace is beyond our understanding, but for those who know God’s love, it is our reality, for Christ guards our hearts and minds in that peace.  AMEN!

Love is, Jesus is, We are! Never Jealous, Boastful, or Proud

church at communion 2Love Is, Jesus is, We are
Never Jealous, Boastful or Proud

 In Jesus Name

 As we explore the dimensions of God the Father’s love for us, revealed clearly in Jesus, may we realize that He is not only loving us, but teaching us to love as well!


Love IS

 Last week when we defined love, we heard about the fact that love never gives up and that love always cares for others more than itself.  Which is the basic definition of the word cHesed in the Old Testament.

Those two characteristics are expanded this evening, as we look what Love is, and see that is who Jesus is, and become surprised that God is working in us, transforming us until that is who we are.

We see it take another step as we realize that love is NEVER jealous, that it is not boastful, that it is not proud.

Some interesting words there, all that are related to a heart that is self-centered that is driven by a need to have something, whether it goods, or admiration or applause. Love doesn’t need that, it is content, confident of the presence of God and the promises of God.

But how do we become so confident in where God has us, that we cease to be jealous, that we have need to boast, that we simply, humbly walk with God?

Jesus Is

The answer, as we will see throughout this Lent begins with Jesus, for you can read this passage of scri[ture and simply substitute Jesus for the word love, and nothing changes.

He wasn’t jealous, even though He left everything, every right, every possession aside when He was born of Mary, but also when He began to preach and teach, and when He went to the cross and died.

There was no need for Him to boast, instead of taking the best place, He washed feet, and ministered to the Leper, and had compassion on widows and Samaritans.

And what to be proud of?  That He could do miracles?  That He could teach thousands?  That he could confound the best and brightest by simple God-centered answers to the questions they planned to trap Him with?

What good would any of that have done.

Instead, He did what He came to do, He loved.  He was love!

We Are

So how does Jesus help us overcome our self-centeredness?  How does He help us lay aside what we desire, and our need for admiration?  How does He transform us into people that like Him, prefer to be last, and prefer to lift others up instead of themselves?

The gospels tell us that as Jesus is lifted up, He will draw all to Him.  And as they are drawn to them, as they look on and adore the Lord who delivers them from their own sin’s punishment,

As we grow in understanding that we are loved by God, our need to be self-centered can disappear, little by little.

As you understand that His love for you compels Him to care for you, to act on your behalf, so jealousy fades away, as does the need for the acclaim and applause of others.  He loves you, and that is so overwhelming that it is more than enough.    Indeed, I am not sure I can even comprehend with my mind fully to realize what that means… that God loves you and me that much.

But my mind doesn’t have to, my heart and soul do, especially while I am at the altar, and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ……

It is then I understand these words of Mary,

46 … “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. 47  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! 48  For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. 49  For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. 50  He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. 51  His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
Luke 1:46-51 (NLT)

And quietly, as we are in awe of this love God shows us, the Holy Spirit is doing what the Apostle Paul described,

16  But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17  For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18  So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
2 Corinthians 3:16-18 (NLT)

That is what is happening to you my friends, as you dwell in God’s peace.  AMEN!

 

 

 

Lent: It’s Not about YOUR Sin! A sermon for the first Sunday in Lent

church at communion 2Lent: It’s Not About YOUR Sin
Romans 5:12-19

Jesus, Son, Savior

As you encounter the brokenness of this world that goes back to the days of Adam and Eve, my you know how great the difference is in your life, because of Jesus Christ our Lord!

A Misconception

A friend of mine commented this week that “we aren’t supposed to “like” Lent.  Because that would defeat the whole purpose.”

It was an interesting thought, and I wondered about what her dislike Lent so much.

Perhaps it is because we have the focus on the wrong part of Lent.  Because while Lent has us look at sin and our need for the Holy Spirit to grant us repentance, Lent isn’t about sin.

The purpose of these 40 days is to evaluate out lives, to see the places where the Holy Spirit needs to work, and to invite that work, to desire it, to allow God to clean out the unholy, unrighteous stuff that stops us from truly living life.

The goal of Lent isn’t to beat ourselves up for what we’ve said or thought or did.

The goal of Lent is to realize that crud is there and to desire it gone from our lives.

But how does that happen?  How do we see the reality that sin doesn’t have us locked down and headed straight to hell?

Your sin is nothing new…

Please understand that I am not saying sin doesn’t exist, or that we shouldn’t be repentant. Not at all, sin is serious business, but it is not our primary business.

Hebrews 12 tells,  “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up… and let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.”  (Heb 12:1)

That is the invitation of Lent, to recognize sin for what it is, and to cast it aside.  Yeah, it is bad, yes it damages our relationship with others and really damages our relationship with God.

As Paul says, this sin kills, it brings death as serious as any plague known to mankind.  And we are its latest victim, in what appears to be an unbroken line, all the way back to Adam.  That seems to be the point Paul makes over and over in the passage from Romans 5 that was read this morning.  Time after time Paul tells us that Adam’s sin, his stepping over the line brought death, it brought condemnation.

For each of us, without salvation, would stand condemned, passing on sin as if it was a genetic syndrome.

Christ’s Act, and your right relationship

But I’ve said that Lent and this section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome aren’t about sin.

They are about bring delivered from sin, and to look at our lives, and learning to desire to live in the like Christ, in His glorious holiness rather than in the darkness of Adam’s sin.  To live, in what Christ righteous act on the cross brought us, what Paul calls a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 

This relationship, this life is the focus of Lent.  Forty days to think about what we retain from Adam and to ask God to cleanse our lives.  To depend on Him more, to live with Him in a more devout way.  Not some kind of false holiness that would exalt us, but simply depending on Him, trusting Him, adoring the God who would take our debt and lay it on Christ, who would bring about righteousness in us.

To want to see this happen, to desire this above all, that is what these days we call Lent are about.

The Continuation of the thought..

At the beginning of the next chapter, Paul will ask the Romans the question which boils down to – who are you going to be like, Adam under condemnation, or Jesus who brings life.  I like the way the Phillip’s translation phrases it,

1  Now what is our response to be? Shall we sin to our heart’s content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God? What a ghastly thought! We, who have died to sin – how could we live in sin a moment longer? Have you forgotten that all of us who were baptized into Jesus Christ were, by that very action, sharing in his death? Romans 6:1 (Phillips NT)

This is what we are aiming for in Lent, the desire expressed here, to live in sin’s power not a moment longer, to receive the grace that makes us live in triumph over sin and death as Paul mentioned in today’s reading.

To run to the altar, seeking the comfort that comes from knowing there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.  To remember what was done in our baptism, to remember His death, burial and resurrection, not as historical facts, but as part of our life, for we died and rose with Him. This is what we celebrate, as we partake of His body and blood and know, the Holy Spirit is changing us, even as we can’t take our eyes off of Jesus.

This mystery of the faith is what we celebrate during Lent, building up to Good Friday when we hear Jesus’ words, it is finished.  It is accomplished.  We are clean, we are holy, we are righteous, for we dwell in Him!

Lent helps us realize that, and realizing that we do toss aside that sin, and look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  To realize in Him we live and move and have our very being.

For in Christ, we exist in the unexplainable, unsurpassable peace of God.  We are safe there, our hearts and minds kept there by Jesus.  AMEN!

%d bloggers like this: