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The Family of God… and death

devotional thought of the day:Sunrise on the day of our combinsed service at Concordia Lutheran Church - Cerritos Ca (also home to Passion International Christian Church!)

27  At this Peter exclaimed, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What is that going to be worth to us?” 28  “Believe me,” said Jesus, “when I tell you that in the next world, when the Son of Man shall sit down on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones and become judges of the twelve tribes of Israel. Every man who has left houses or brothers or sisters or fathers or mother or children or land for my sake will receive it all back many times over, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first now will be last then – and the last first! Matthew 19:27-28 (Phillips NT)

In the last few days, I have been thinking about death a bit.  No, not because of the movie and television star who died, but because of someone important in my life.  Someone I barely knew, yet revealed to me again a truth about family, especially the family of God.

As we stood at her graveside this morning, as her children dropped beautiful red roses flowers onto the urn’s vault, someone suggested that I do, as one of the family, drop a flower into the vault as well.  I flashed back to the service at church, a few days before, and a story where another of her “children”  was told, “you maybe one of my daughters, but I am sure I didn’t give birth to you!”

As I stood there, a rose in my hand, the verse above came into my head.  This Lady whose ashes were being lade to rest – could very well be an elder sister, if not a mother in the faith.  Her husband was surely one of the great father-figures in my faith.  And her six children, they truly are like my brothers and sisters, even though we grew up on different continents, Even though they and their children live all over the world today, even though there is little at first glance that we would have in common, they welcomed me as their brother.  Though I have spent less than 24 hours with some of them, I yearned to bring them comfort as a sibling would in those moments, and felt the impact of their mom’s temporary loss in those moments.

There are two things that can bind people together, (there are more – but these two are the most powerful)  The first is traumatic, the fact that those we love, and we ourselves will die.  It can cause us great despair, despair that is more than individual, yet more deeply felt than anything we feel individually.

But even as powerful, even as final as death seems to be.  There is something that binds us even closer, that is far more powerful, and endures far greater.

The Love of God.  The love which binds us, the children of God, together more powerfully.  That transcends culture, that transcends age, nationality, ethnicity, It is a love reflected in the words read this morning.

3  I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” 5  And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” 6  And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7  All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. Revelation 21:3-7 (NLT)

We are His children. The lady whose ashes were laid to rest most certainly understands that now – the promises of God to her in her baptism, that she heard all her life, that her husband proclaimed from pulpits, that she taught her children – all of us, that was proclaimed loudly.

For she is one of those brothers or sisters or fathers or mother or children  that I have received. 

That message that this couple shared with so many of their children, they shared with their New England born and raised kids, Who didn’t get to know them long enough, and yet knew their home was my home as well – where brothers and sisters welcome me still! .

Truly in Christ Jesus we gain more relatives, more family, and a hope that extends far beyond this life….. into eternity.

We are God’s children….. created in Christ to do good works, to love… to care for each other, to share the hope given to us.

Amen!

The Paradox of Life….in Christ

Sermon from Concordia Lutheran Church, June 29. 2014Concordia Lutheran Church - Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

The Paradox of Life in Christ

Matthew 10:34-42

IHS

 

May we understand that this grace, the mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, is what makes life worth living.

But I thought……             The paradox that isn’t

As I read the gospel reading first two verses last Monday, (for I did not come to bring peace… but a sword.. and cause division in homes)  other Bible passages started to run through my mind.

Isa 9:6 — For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end.

Ac 10:36 — This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Ro 5:1 — Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.

Eph 2:14 — For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.

Eph 2:17 — He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near.

Col 1:20 — and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

And as I read the verses about division, I thought about the 4th Commandment, and our duty to Honor our father and mother.  Then St, John’s words, questioning how we can love God who we can’t see, when we don’t love our neighbor whom we can see.  I mean – isn’t God all about love?  The two greatest of commands are love Him and love our neighbor, right?

It seems confusing at first, that this passage contradicts so many others in scripture, indeed, some which form the basis of our relationship with God.

There is a word for this – it is called a paradox… and certainly, from the view of the world, this life we have been given in Christ is a paradox

So let’s look at this passage – and see something truly amazing…..
Yeah – Jesus does mean it –

Does Jesus actually mean it, when He talks about coming to cause division, to cause strife?  That He didn’t come to bring peace, but a weapon of war?  A sword to separate us from each other?

I mean, I like swords and knives and such, but is this the tool we need for ministry? Does following in His steps mean that we all have to carry swords and machetes? Of course not!

But does Jesus mean it, when He prophesies that families will divide, father against son, daughter against wife?  That some who hate us, will be those in our very homes?  That we have to love God more than any.  More than our parents, than our children? Or if we do not, we aren’t worthy, we aren’t capable of being in a relationship with him

Yes, He does. He means it.

As we struggle with this, it is helpful to know which of the words for “love” is used here.  It is phileo – the love usually expressed within a family.  Within that, there is a sense of loyalty, the recognition that these are “my people”, that no one takes precedence over them.  It is a tight mutual bond, one of great loyalty, one that can go deeper than we have words for, or the logic to explain.

Jesus says that this is the kind of love that we should have for Him, more than any other person in our lives.  It’s not new in scripture, remember God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Issac?  Remember Gideon, tearing down the statue of the idol Ba’al in his dad’s backyard?  Or the cry of Joshua to his people, As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord?

That word actually cuts deeper and harder for many of us. Challenging our loyalty to our family, our very natural desire to care and protect those we love is a dangerous thing.  Which is more important, the kids chance for a sports or academic scholarship, or spending time in church and Bible Study?  What about God’s commands about marriage, or wanting them to just enjoy being “in love?”  What about having to sacrifice time with our family, not to minister to a friend, but to show love and pray for an adversary, maybe their adversary?

Who is closer to us, who are we going to be loyal too?  Who are we going to listen to, and base our “right and wrong” on?

Please here me!  I am not talking about nagging people to death, or condemning those we love who aren’t living as God planned for them to live.  But there has to be an option between tolerating that which is evil and wrong in God’s eyes, and condemning them and turning our back on them.

The option that is only found… in loving God more than all. The only real option we, who trust in Jesus have….

For Jesus does mean these words, but not just to convict us of our sins, or to give Him a reason to condemn us.  This call, this command to love Him more than all others

The Reason – “being Mine”  Phileo!

One of the challenges of preaching on a portion of a chapter, is remembering the context of the entire chapter.  We noted this last week, as we talked about the context of these verses before – these are Jesus’ words to the men he is sending out, His representatives to proclaim that God’s kingdom is here, among us.  That God does care and is helping, comforting, saving and defending us.

That is the same context here.  Jesus is speaking to those who know in part, and will soon know how deep God’s love for them is, as they realize the message they are coming to give – is that God loves us so much, that His son would be crucified for us.

They recognize, intuitively, that this Jesus has for them the words of life, that He is going to free them from all that restricts life, from all that limits it from being lived to the fullest.

That when we respond to His love, when our loyalty, our priorities are all based in responding to His love.

A side note – to be explored more, but when we love Him first, when our loyalty and the primary relationship is with Him, then all the other relationships we are in take on a deeper and truer nature, they are less effected by sin, or by anxiety, they become less our gods, as we put them into God’s hands…..

We are called to walk with God, as His family.  Not just for a while, it is who we are, now and forever.  It defines us, this relationship we are in, more than our being a son, or a dad, a mom or a daughter.  More than any things else – we have to know we are loved by God to the point where we are now family.

His people, Close family, His children.

We are the people God is willing to die for, we are the people that Christ did die for, willingly, for the joy set before Him, he endured that cross.

He welcomes us to pick up ours, and walk with Him.  That may test us, as family and friends don’t get us, as they don’t understand why we do what we do, why we act like we act, as we struggle to leave behind the sinful behaviors and attitudes that they find normal. They will wonder as they see us struggle and sacrifice to love our enemies, rather than get revenge.  This relationship will test us as we struggle with our desire to do what pleases us, rather than what pleases God.

This isn’t what we have to do to save ourselves, for Jesus has done that already!  But as we realize His love, it is how we respond to His love, to His faithfulness to us. As we remember the new life He gave us in baptism, as He claimed us as His children, as we come to this altar and receive His body and blood.  As we realize that this is where we need to be, for chasing after the world’s idea of life stifles us, kills us….reduces us to mere animals

But in Him, there is life….

So welcome those who speak of His love, of His promises and yes, call you to repentance and life.  Welcome those who live life in Christ, struggling with the righteousness that is there.  Love those He brings into your life, helping them, even if it is by offering them a cup of cold water….

For following Him, walking in His steps is a life that is rewarding, for we realize the life He has given us, through the cross….

A life of God’s peace which is beyond our ability to describe, as we live it secure in Christ Jesus….. 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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