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Rev. Rhoda's Weekly Sermons

(Sermon, "NO FEAR" as Preached)

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NO FEAR

 11/12/17  

(Sermon as Written)

Those of you who notice the sign out front may also notice that the title of my sermon has changed.  I will preach that sermon next week.  I felt it very important that I talk today about the fear that arises in many of us as we reflect upon what happened last Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas.  Fear probably becomes our response, but Paul wrote to Timothy For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”  (I Timothy 1:7 NIV)  How are we called to live during such as time as this?

 

2 Corinthians 11:1-3, 16-31 (the Message)

I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.  But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  …  I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!  In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face.  To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!  Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about.  Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I.  Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 

 

What is happening in this passage is that Paul has to defend himself against false prophets, deceitful workers, and those who would masquerade as apostles.  I am reading this to you to get a feel for the kind of life that Paul lived as he spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It was not an easy life. 

We have relatively safe and easy lives.  Persecution for our faith usually exists in ridicule for our beliefs and our choice of morals.  Our biggest danger is truly when we drive on the highway.  In our everyday lives, according to statistics, the minute we get behind the wheel of a car we are entering a dangerous situation.  And I don’t know about you, but when I have a near miss on the road, I literally shake.  Depending on the closeness of the potential danger, we are frightened.

Why have we been so free from the distress Paul bears witness to as the life of the Christian?  Over 200 years ago, the creators of this democratic republic went to war against the monarchy.  Many gave their lives, but all defenders of this new republic gave their time.  We have continued this over these two centuries, believing that we needed to defend certain “inalienable rights” of humanity not only on our own soil, but also on foreign land.  On Memorial Day, we celebrate those who have given their lives for this defense.  And yesterday, Veterans Day, we honored those who gave of their time and risked their lives to defend these freedoms.  In fact, let us ask those who have served this country in the military of this country to stand.  Thank you for your service.

As a result of such service, we as a people have known relatively little fear. Until 911, this generation of citizens had never experienced an attack on our own soil.  Remember, Hawaii was not a state when Japan attacked.  The British attacked us in both the revolutionary war and the war of 1812.  Mexico attacked in the Mexican American war.  But those wars are not part of our reality.  Our reality is one of safety and freedom.  We cannot really know what it means to live in daily terror or fear for our lives.   

The truth is when terror comes we don’t know how to deal with it.  We all sat glued to the television and watched the events of 911 unfold.  When Sandy Hook Elementary School experienced a shooter who killed 20 children, I remember talking with our CFF children here at Richwood about their own terror concerns about gunman in school.  We, as adults, may have similar feelings after hearing the news story about the gunman who walked into a church last Sunday killing 26 and wounding many others.  We experience terror, not just fear. 

What enabled Paul to experience prison, floggings, exposure to death, beatings, stoning, shipwrecks, and bandits and not live in fear?  What gave him the courage to get back up again time after time and go on preaching the Word of God?  I would propose three things.  I do not believe there are only three things, but we do not have all day. 

First, Paul believed in God’s sovereignty.  I had Sally read to you the story of King Ahab’s death.  The prophet of God had predicted his death in the battle he was to fight.  King Ahab thought he could stop this from happening by entering the battle in disguise and endangering the life of King Jehoshaphat.  But God will not be mocked.  A random arrow finds it mark in King Ahab and he dies.  Paul writes that there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1b NIV); and he wrote this during the reign of the Roman emperors, one of which later has Paul beheaded.  Yet, on that day when the people of Lystra tried to stone Paul, he survived.  God’s purpose for Paul had not yet been fulfilled.

Secondly, John wrote “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” (I John 4:18a NIV)  Paul believed in God’s perfect love.  Fear has to do with punishment.  Do we fear punishment from God or do we believe he loves us perfectly? We know we do not love him perfectly, but do we believe that he loves us perfectly.  God, through Jesus, showed us he was willing to die so that we might experience his perfect love.  Is there anything more that can convince us of God’s perfect love?  Paul trusted in that love.  He even wrote about it in his famous love chapter.  “It [love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  (I Corinthians 13:7 NIV) 

Lastly, Paul stayed focused on his goal given to him by God.  Paul wrote to the Philippians “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14 NIV)  We can go through many things if we stay focused on our goal.

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OK, how do I apply these principles to myself?  First, we cling to the knowledge our lives have already been determined by a sovereign God.  The Psalmist writes all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  (Psalm 139:16b NIV)  Your live is determined by God.  If God is going to call you home, he will call you home.  You can try to disguise yourself to cheat death or someone else may try to take you early.  It doesn’t matter – God is sovereign.  He has already determined your days before you were ever born.

Next, trust in his perfect love.  If all goes well, we are going to watch a video about the song “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.”  When we truly trust God’s love for us, we can learn to say with Paul I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” (Philippians 4:12 NIV)

Lastly, focus on the goal.  All of us have been called by God for some purpose.  Some of us take a while to discover that purpose than others.  But it doesn’t change a thing.  If you’re not sure, you can start our Book of Confession say.  “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”  (Westminster Confession Point A.)  Do you live every moment glorifying God?  Are you enjoying his presence?  Or what about the great commission “Go and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19a NIV)  Or, as Father Jonathan Morris said, “I plan to go to heaven and take as many people with me as I can.” (Paraphrased from the book The Way of Serenity.) If this is your main goal in life, you will have little or no time left to live in terror.  Every person you meet could be a potential Kingdom citizen.  We must be ready to receive them into our church and our lives WITHOUT FEAR. 

Let us watch this video which gives us hope.

Let’s pray.

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(Sermon, "MEETING THE NEEDS" as Preached)

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MEETING THE NEEDS

 11/5/17  

(Sermon as Written)

Matthew 25:31-46 (the Message)

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

 

 This is the last parable Jesus told before his arrest in the book of Matthew.  He is building up to it.  “The illustrations in chapter 24 and the first of the parables in chapter 25 stressed the need to be ready when Christ returns.  The parable of talents or bags of gold taught the need for faithful work and service, which will be rewarded at the judgment.  The final story is of the judgment itself.  There is also a progression.  In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, the women who were not ready are only shut out from the banquet.  In the next parable the wicked, lazy servant is thrown out into the darkness.  In the story of the sheep and the goats, those who have ignored the needs of Christ’s brothers are cursed with an eternal punishment.[i]

You can see there are multiple lessons to be learned from this parable.  But today we are not talking about the judgment or the punishment.  Your Stewardship Committee wants to look at the actions or inactions of those on the right and the left that have been separated from each other. 

It may be a mystery to us why Jesus chose to use the separation of sheep and goats in his parable.  But, the life of pastoralists was not unfamiliar to those whom Jesus was speaking.  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the ancestors of the Jewish people kept large flocks of animals.  We know shepherds were still around Israel in that time period because angels appeared to shepherds out in the field on the night Jesus was born.  So, when Jesus said, “He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”  (Matthew 25:32b-33 NIV), everyone understood what he meant.  Now according to Dr. Timothy S. Laniak, who traveled to Israel to study the life of the Bedouin pastoralists, “female sheep are by nature docile followers, keeping their heads down and following the tails in front of them.”[ii]  However, “the goats are another story.  They don’t ‘flock.’  True to their independent nature, they take off in search of random foliage.”[iii]  Dr. Laniak goes on to share “Two brothers from the Beni Sakhr tribe illustrate this.  Hisham herds sheep and Amjad herds goats.  Amjad laughed, ‘They never let me rest.  They just keep moving and getting into trouble.  My brother’s job is easy.’  During the afternoon, my interview with Hisham went uninterrupted.  Amjad hardly sat down.”[iv]  As a result, we can assume Jesus had a reason for making the sheep those who did what Jesus wanted and the goats those who did their own thing.

What were the crimes of the goats for which they received such a harsh punishment in our parable? I believe there are two:  1) They were not meeting the needs of the needy; and 2) Inactivity. 

First, we see the needs of the least of these my brothers and sisters.  We can assume that Jesus’ didn’t mean his family by blood because today they are all dead.  But he does tell us in Matthew 3 “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”  (Matthew 3:35 NIV)  The concern here is for Christian brothers and sisters.  Jesus considers his family those who do God’s will.  Each of the actions listed by Jesus is in response to a specific need.  Each of the actions required are small, but they do take time.  The required action is not for a person of high status.  It is for the least—such as children.

Secondly, the goats are judged by their inactivity.  Note, it wasn’t evil they had done, but good they had failed to do.  Jesus required some kind of action in response to need as the judge in that courtroom.

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What does that mean for us?  Where do we go with this information?  How does all of this relate to Stewardship Sunday?  Today we make a commitment to our God regarding our time, treasure, and talent in response to his goodness to us in the previous year.  This is why Stewardship Sunday is also Harvest Sunday, a leftover from our agrarian society.  Most of you were sent cards in the mail for the purpose of praying over them for your commitment.  If you did not bring them today or they were not received and you still wish to make a commitment, we have extra here in the front row.  When you come forward for communion, sit down, grab a paper clipped packet prayerfully fill out the cards.  One half is to put in the basket here on the communion table and the other is to keep reminding you of your promise.

While filling them out or bringing yours with you, think about the following:  Am I meeting the need?  For some, it is easier to write a check than to give up time.  But what if your brothers and sisters in Christ need your time to serve in the church more than your money.  What if you have a special talent but there is no place to put that to use?  Could not God be calling you to some other place of service?  What if the needs of the church mean you could give a little more if you cut out of your budget one latte grande from Starbucks each month?  What if some child needs a small donation which can be made through World Vision or Compassion?  As you think about what you want to promise, think about those people or organizations that God has put in your life.  What is their need?

Secondly, remember that doing nothing is also condemned.  We didn’t read the parable of the bags of gold.  This parable precedes the one we read.  But the servant who hid the money, who did nothing with it, was called a “wicked, lazy servant!” and told “you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.  So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. … And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (Matthew 25:26-30 NIV)  The warning here is to do something even if it is very little.

Part of making our commitment is trusting God that our circumstances will allow us to fulfill these pledges, these promises.  Perhaps as time goes on, you will find additional ways to give of your time, talent, and treasure which you did not anticipate.  Perhaps God will put someone in your way and you hear the words of Jesus’ words to the goats whispered in your heart. “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”  (Matthew 25:42-43 NIV)  And you will answer that voice and say, “No, Lord, that will not be true of me.  Today I will meet this person’s need or this organization’s call.  I will not ignore what I need to do.  I will give of my time, or talent or treasure.  Lord, today I will be your sheep.”

Let’s pray. 

 


[i] Boice, James Montgomery.  The Gospel of Matthew Volume 2:  The Triumph of the King.  Baker Books:  Grand Rapids, MI,  2006.

[ii] Laniak, Dr. Timothy S.  While Shepherds Watch their Flocks.  Everbest Printing Co. Ltd:  China, 2007.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

 

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(Sermon, "HERE I STAND" as Preached)

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HERE I STAND

 10/29/17  

(Sermon as Written)

           Our Epistle lesson for today is from the opening of a letter from Paul to the church in Rome.  This is a unique church for him because he has never been there.  He did not start this church as he did the others where we have his letters.  Most scholars speculate that this church was formed by the Jews who heard Peter’s sermon in Acts, chapter 2, on the day of Pentecost.  I am going to read to you from the paraphrase of Scripture called The Message.

Romans 1:8-17 (the Message)

8-12 I thank God through Jesus for every one of you. That’s first. People everywhere keep telling me about your lives of faith, and every time I hear them, I thank him. And God, whom I so love to worship and serve by spreading the good news of his Son—the Message!—knows that every time I think of you in my prayers, which is practically all the time, I ask him to clear the way for me to come and see you. The longer this waiting goes on, the deeper the ache. I so want to be there to deliver God’s gift in person and watch you grow stronger right before my eyes! But don’t think I’m not expecting to get something out of this, too! You have as much to give me as I do to you.

13-15 Please don’t misinterpret my failure to visit you, friends. You have no idea how many times I’ve made plans for Rome. I’ve been determined to get some personal enjoyment out of God’s work among you, as I have in so many other non-Jewish towns and communities. But something has always come up and prevented it. Everyone I meet—it matters little whether they’re mannered or rude, smart or simple—deepens my sense of interdependence and obligation. And that’s why I can’t wait to get to you in Rome, preaching this wonderful good news of God.

16-17 It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: “The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.”

 

Today is Reformation Sunday.  I don’t usually preach the on the Reformation, but today is special.  This week, on Tuesday, October 31, marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation.  When we were in Germany back in May, there were already large banners posted in the square of some of the cities with this celebration in mind.

It is believed this is the day that Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  This document is credited with starting the Reformation; that is, the separation for many from the Roman Catholic Church.  Dr. Martin really had no intention of starting a Reformation.  Posting a paper on the door of the church was a call to discussion at the University of Wittenberg where he was a professor of theology.  His first document posted to the door was a 99 theses denouncing Aristotle’s influence on Christian theology.  This theses was completely ignored except for discussion among his colleagues. 

But the 95 theses denounced the sale of indulgences, a common practice of the Roman Catholic Church.  Dr. Luther had been incensed by this practice when Johann Tetzel was sent by Rome to raise money to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica.  Mr. Tezel was selling the remission of punishment for sins.  Martin Luther had already struggled with the God of judgment.  He lived in constant fear of this righteous judge and felt that Satan was always attacking him to sin.  It wasn’t until he was given a New Testament and read the very passage I just read to you that he became convinced of the gift of God.  From the Message, it says “The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.”  In our pew Bible, it reads “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17b NIV)  The key discovered was salvation is based upon faith and trust.  You can’t buy your way into heaven. 

Martin Luther was not the first to disagree with Roman Catholic Church.  A man named Jan Hus had ideas that became widely accepted in Bohemia.  He was supported by the King Wenceslaus, whose name lives on in a Christmas Carol.  Jan Hus also spoke against indulgences, as well asserted that no Pope or bishop had the right to take up the sword in the name of the Church; he should pray for his enemies and bless those that curse him; man obtains forgiveness of sins by true repentance, not money.  When he came to trial, he declared himself willing to recant all he had written if he could be convinced through Scripture that he had erred.  He was burned at the stake in 1415.  He declared prophetically that in 100 years, God would send someone that the church would not be able to stop.  In 1999, just 18 years ago, Pope John Paul II expressed “deep regret for the cruel death inflicted” on Hus and added “deep sorrow” for Hus’ death and praised his “moral courage.”  In 2015, Hus was voted the greatest hero of the Czech nation.

Dr. Luther was heavily influenced by the writing of Jan Hus as well as the writing of John Wycliffe.  Wycliffe was born about 50 years before Jan Hus and was the first person to translate the Bible into the English language.  He, too, was declared a heretic and although he had already died; the church dug up his bones and burned them since his body was no longer available.

Why did Luther succeed where Wycliffe and Hus did not?  Someone took his 95 theses off the door of that church and marched down the street and handed it to the proud owner of a new machine called the printing press.  Luther’s message spread faster than news traveled back to Rome.  The decisions in Rome were flagrantly behind the local publicity, the 16th century social media.  As a result, the Reformation was born.  Other reformers, such as Joseph Swingle, from whom the Baptists claim their descent, and John Calvin, from whom the Presbyterian hale, were also able to get out their message to the public.

The Reformation had lasting effects that we take for granted today.  For example, education was only for the clergy and the upper class.  Now when you and I meet someone unable to read, there are usually other reasons than availability.  The Protestants also spurred on the period of Enlightenment.  Galileo had lived his final years under house arrest for declaring the earth revolved around the sun.  Yet it took the Roman Catholic Church until 1992 to formally declare Galileo right.

Probably the most precious gift of the Reformation was putting the Bible into the hands of the common people.  Since about the 5th century, it was a forbidden book.  Only priests and monks were allowed access to the Bible.  Even though he had been a monk for years and had lead in communion, Martin Luther did not receive his first copy of the New Testament until he was transferred to the University of Wittenberg.  It wasn’t just availability or education that was the problem.  The Bible was also forbidden in the common language of the people, only the Latin Vulgate was used.  There is documented that seven people, one a woman, were burned at the stake for teaching their children to say the Lord’s Prayer in the own tongue.  Today, we say it every Sunday without giving it a second thought.  Martin Luther wrote the first German version of the Bible.  Although the works of Wycliffe were banned, his work was still very popular.  Wycliffe Bible texts are the most common manuscript literature in Middle English. More than 250 manuscripts of the Wycliffe Bible survive. One copy sold at auction on 5 December 2016 for $1,692,500 USD. 

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Why should I care about all of this?  What difference does it make in my own life?  You know, in two weeks we will honor those who fought for our freedom on Veterans Days.  On Memorial Day, we recognize those who died for our freedom, and not just the freedom of religion, but the many freedoms we enjoy. 

For nearly 1200 years, the Bible was forbidden.  If we had lived during that time, we would not have been allowed to read it.  Men and women died trying to get this book and the message of this book into the hands of all.  Yet, we Christians tend to treat this book more careless than we do our freedoms.  If we have one in our home, it tends to be a dust collector rather than a precious gift from a great and powerful God, one that you will meet one day and have to give an account for your choices.  God promises that he can speak to you through this book if you will bother to listen.

I am going to challenge you to read the book of John.  It is the fourth gospel in the New Testament.  Instead of writing short vignettes like the first three gospel writers, John writes longer stories of how people come to their faith.  He also has Jesus talking more.  If you have only a King James Bible, go buy something else.  That is 400 year old English.  Our language has changed drastically in my lifetime, let alone 400 years.  If you want something easy to understand, get the Message, the one I read to you from today.  Didn’t you feel like you were reading a letter written today?   If you want something closer to a translation, but still easy reading, get The Living Translation.  If you understand what we use here in the sanctuary, the New International Version works fine.  If you want something really simple, I bought my granddaughters one that is in comic strip form; yes, the whole Bible.  Start with John.  Take your time on each story.  Stop and think about it.  Imagine yourself there when the religious leader comes sneaking in to see Jesus during the night because he is afraid.  Or sit down by the well with the woman who is an outcast because she has been married six times talks as she talks with Jesus.  Take your time.  Maybe a chapter at a time.  Don’t rush and don’t read when you are tired.  Just rest in the presence of Jesus and listen with your heart.  Perhaps you could even write down your thoughts.  Try to find at least two times a week.  When you have finished, come or call and talk to me.  Let me know what you have experienced by this exercise.  People died so you could do this.  Don’t let it go to waste!  And God has made his own promise concerning the Bible.  Isaiah writes God’s promise “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NIV)

Let’s pray.  

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(Sermon, "MALICE IN THE PALACE" as Preached)

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MALICE IN THE PALACE

written by Tom Long and Allen Pote

Performed by the children of Richwood Presbyterian Church

 10/22/17

Children's Sabbath

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(Sermon, "SEND US MEMBERS" as Preached)

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SEND US MEMBERS

 10/15/17 

(Sermon as Written)

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NIV)

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’” 

 

When I was in computer consulting, we often found many of our support calls very interesting.  Once, when our office was open space and everyone could hear my answers, a client had called with a question.  My associates had figured out the question by my answer and burst into laughter.  “When it tells you to hit any key, it is not referring to a specific key on your keyboard, it truly means that you many press any of the keys on your keyboard.”

But one conversation passed around consultants is a perfect example of how many Christians choose to operate.  A woman had called telling the consultant that her screen had just gone blank.  She was just typing and it was suddenly black.  The consultant had her try a reboot process and nothing happened.  He then had her check the cords from the monitor to the computer.  Yes, these were tight.  He admonished her to check the connection from the computer to the outlet.  She told him that outlet was between her desk and the wall.  She couldn’t possibly move the desk and it was too dark to see the outlet.  He advised her to move her desk lamp over to the edge to shed light into the crevice.  “That will do no good,” she told the man.  “The power is out in our building.”

We can laugh about how someone didn’t know that the electricity had to be flowing to make the computer work; but as Christians, we sometimes are operating in a power outage or unplugged from our source.  Then we start to wonder why our screens are completely black.  This can be part of the problem as we try to fix what is happening in the church, especially as the congregation goes smaller.  

In our gospel reading today, Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” (John 6:44a NIV)  In the book of Acts, we read about the early church “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47b NIV)  It appears to me that it is God’s responsibility to grow the church.  

But that begs the question, what is our responsibility?  According to our text today, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! … Prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: … Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: … Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’” (Selections from above)  Prophets are simply those who speak God’s word.  To prophesy is simply to speak God’s word.  In our current use of that word, we have changed the meaning to mean predicting the future.  But in the time of the ancient prophets to the times of Jesus, it simply meant to speak the word of God—past, present, or future.  What brought life to these dry bones was God’s Word!  

Matthew records Jesus’ final words as “make disciples of all nations, … and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19b-20a NIV)  And according to Luke, he said, “you will be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8b NIV)  These are the commands given for the purpose of the church.

Even our mission statement, which is printed on the front of the bulletin each week reflects a desire to be in alignment with the Biblical purposes.  “The Richwood Presbyterian Church, centered on Jesus Christ, welcomes all persons, provides teaching to enhance spiritual growth, and fosters discipleship according to the Lord’s example and Biblical direction.” 

Yet our church is not growing.  Something must be out of alignment with the purposes of God.  If we were doing what he has called Richwood Presbyterian Church to do, he would be sending us members.  He would breathe life into this church as he did for those dry bones in Ezekiel. 

What can you do?  We have started a group called “Growing Our Church.”  But this group is not about brainstorming ideas.  It is all about plugging into the source, the power outlet, the Holy Spirit!  We want to discern what God is telling us he wants us to do.  We are going to be spending time, first of all, learning how to listen to God; and discerning what God is telling us to do. 

Richard Foster considers Guidance as one of the Spiritual Disciplines of the Corporate body, the Church.  In his chapter on the spiritual discipline of Guidance, he quotes Dallas Willard.  “The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with Himself included in that community as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.”[i]  Mr. Foster goes on to say “Such a community would live under the immediate and total rulership of the Holy Spirit.  They would be a people blinded to all other loyalties by the splendor of God, a compassionate community embodying the law of love as seen in Jesus Christ.  They would be an obedient army of the Lamb of God living under the Spiritual Disciplines, a community in the process of total transformation from the inside out, a people determined to live out the demands of the gospel in a secular world.  They would be tenderly aggressive, meekly powerful, suffering and overcoming.  Such a community, cast in a rare and apostolic mold, would constitute a new gathering of the people of God.  May almighty God gather such a people in our day.”

Doesn’t that sound awesome?  Yet, for us to live under the immediate and total rulership of the Holy Spirit, we have to learn to listen.  I know we haven’t truly learned to listen.  For the Holy Spirit would not tell me one thing and you another.  He is a God of unity.  So, there can be only one of three answers if we disagree.  1)  I am not listening.  2)  You are not listening or 3) We both are not listening.

I am not talking about matters that are irrelevant to our faith.  It doesn’t matter if you believe in a literal 7 day creation or if God you believed God used evolution to create the world.  It does matter if you believe God is the creator because that is part of the substance of our faith.  In the same way, if we want to live as a community under the rulership of the Holy Spirit, direction and method and manner must be agreed upon and will be agreed upon if we are plugged into the source of our power, the Holy Spirit.  On all other matters, we can agree to disagree.

Do you want to see this church come back to life with the power of the Holy Spirit?  Do you want to help those of us who want to learn to listen to the spirit of God?  We are just beginning this journey, but you can come anytime.  It is my prayer that Richwood becomes the community Richard Foster describes.  But a pastor cannot accomplish that on her own.  She needs her congregation.  And we all must be plugged into the Holy Spirit, the source of our power.  It is then and only then God will send us members.

Let’s pray.  

[i] Foster, Richard.  Celebration of Discipline.  Harper & Row, Publishers: San Francisco, CA  1978

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(Sermon, "OBSESSION" as Preached)

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OBSESSION

 

10/8/17

 

GUEST SPEAKER:  REV. STEPHANIE MILLER-MCLANE

 

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(Sermon, "WHEN CAN WE WANT SOMETHING" as Preached)

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WHEN CAN WE WANT SOMETHING

 

10/1/17

(Sermon as Written)

Isaiah 2:6-18, 22 (the Message)

You, Lord, have abandoned your people, the descendants of Jacob.  They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and embrace pagan customs. Their land is full of silver and gold; there is no end to their treasures. Their land is full of horses; there is no end to their chariots. Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made. So people will be brought low and everyone humbled—do not forgive them.Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from the fearful presence of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty! The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled and human pride brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled), for all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty, and all the oaks of Bashan, for all the towering mountains and all the high hills, for every lofty tower and every fortified wall, for every trading shipand every stately vessel. The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear. … Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?

 

 

We are in our fourth and final installment of the sermon series, “sins of the church.”  We have dealt with judgmentalism, gossip, and pleasing ourselves.  I want to assure you I am fully aware that I have not exhausted the possible list of potential sins to preach on.  But I have exhausted myself in preparing these sermons.  You may only be spending 15 minutes each Sunday with the text and the material; but I have spent 5-10 times longer than that.  And since I am not guiltless, the Spirit speaks to me during preparation.

Today our topic is idols.  Of course, our minds immediately turn toward the action figures of ancient civilizations.  They would create images of their gods that the people worshiped.  We do not create human-like images that we worship, so we believe that we need not be concerned with idolatry.  But if you listened closely to the Old Testament Scripture read to you, idolatry can take on many forms.  Their land is full of silver and gold; there is no end to their treasures. Their land is full of horses; there is no end to their chariots. Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made.” (Isaiah 2:7-8 NIV)  I see three forms of idols present in these verses.  The first would be money, the second is a mode of transportation, and the third is man-made creations.  Translating that to the 21st century would be money, cars, and careers.

Isaiah, the author of our text, was a prophet to the people of Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel.  We often think of prophets as predictors of the future, but in Biblical times, a prophet was anyone who spoke the words of the Lord.  If God wanted to talk about the past or the present, it would still be a prophetic message.  God’s main message throughout Isaiah and Jeremiah and others was “Stop breaking the Sabbath and stop worshiping idols.”  We laugh at the idea of idols because we picture these figurines and we wonder how they could have been ignorant.

The truth is that anything can be idol.  We can make anything our god.  And the main idol of Christians today is the family unit.  A perfect example of this happened just last year!  Many churches were closed on Sunday, December 25, last year so congregation could be at home with their family.  Think about that for a moment.  Sunday is a day we set aside to worship our God who is supposed to be our Lord and master.  Christmas is the day we celebrate God coming down to appear as a helpless tiny baby to be with his created humanity!  So, when Christmas happens to fall on a Sunday, who should be number one?  We should really be in church twice as long.  It is doubly holy!  The Jewish people considered the combination of the Sabbath and Passover a special holiday.  John 19:31 (NIV) reads, Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath.” Should it not be the same for us?  Should not Christmas falling on a Sunday be the same as Passover falling on a Sabbath?  When was the family put on the throne during these holy days that the celebration of our God should be ignored and the church doors closed?

I recently heard a woman share her experience with the mission of Compassion.  Surely, you have seen them advertise on television about how for just a few dollars a day you can help a child.  This woman had decided she would teach her children about having compassion for those who didn’t have as much as they had.  She picked out two children the same age as who own and was sending the $40 a month per child to the Compassion headquarters and faithfully began to follow the life of these children with her own.

After some time, a neighbor lady came over and seeing the pictures on this woman’s fridge said, “You didn’t fall for that stuff, did you?  You know they are just getting your money and the children never get any help!”  The storyteller was incensed.  She decided to fly out to Africa and check out the true status of these children.  She spent nearly $3,000 on travel only just to make sure her $40 a month wasn’t being wasted.  After traveling the final miles on very rough roads, she entered the village.  She was immediately recognized.  You see, she had sent a family photo to the headquarters and there on the wall of the hut where her child lived was that family photo.  She wasn’t just recognized by her sponsored child, but by the entire village.  Her welcome was overwhelming!  She was dragged by this child from hut to hut as he proudly introduced her to one family after another.  They knew enough English to communicate because of the teacher her money helped bring to the village.  

As she entered one of the huts, her heart was touched greatly as she observed 4 generations of women living without any men of their own to help with the maintenance required for living in that village.  They were completely dependent on the care of others in the village.  The oldest woman was very ill and bedridden.  Her daughter was the main caregiver.  The youngest girl was still an infant in the arms of her mother.  Our storyteller had already learned that most of the villagers were Christians and so she offered encouragement.  “May I pray for you?”, she asked.  The woman who was only about ten years older than her replied, “I think I need to pray for you.”  The visiting woman was surprised, “Why do you think I need prayer?”  “My dear,” she answered.  “You obviously have so much more that can distract you from serving our great God.  You must need constant prayer.”

Anything that distracts you from doing everything for the glory of God is an idol.  Anything that is more important in your life than serving your God is an idol.  Anything that detains you from spending with your God in Bible reading and prayer is an idol.  What is your idol?  

We need to say with Paul, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”  (Philippians 3:7-9a NIV)

Let’s pray. 

 

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(Sermon, "WHEN CAN WE DO SOMETHING" as Preached)

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WHEN CAN WE DO SOMETHING

 9/24/17

 (Sermon as Written)

    We are halfway through our series on “sins of the church.”  We have discussed judgmentalism and gossip.  Both of these pertain to our behavior inside and out of the church.  Our challenge is to stop both behaviors and to admonish one another whenever we find ourselves in a conversation that partakes of these morsels as a delicacy to be devoured.

    Today we will move on to the sin of pleasing ourselves, especially when we believe what we are doing what is right.  Paul addresses this issue in Romans and even though a full chapter plus two is recorded as our text, I will shorten that selection.  In addition, I am going to read from “the Message” for words and phrases more common to our ears.  You are still welcome to follow along in the New International Version.

Romans 14:1-9, 22-15:2 (the Message)

 Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong.

Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

     In this congregation, we have a wide variety of theologies among individuals.  Some of you may not even think you have a theology.  But if you believe in God, you have a theology.  Our theology refers to our belief and understanding of God.  This wide variety within our congregation can make for some interesting conversations.  Although some persons tend to argue more passionately than others, the passion is usually a reflection of someone’s personality rather than level of belief.

     But what we say in our lively conversations and how we behave should be very different.  According to the Message translation, “None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters.” (Romans 14:7 the Message)  The New International Version translates the Greek in this way, For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.” (Romans 14:7 NIV)  Living only for ourselves is not the life of a Christian.

     In our society, this could be the biggest temptation.  You can hardly turn off the constant reminders on billboards, television, radio, and all other forms of social media.  After all, “you deserve a break today,” “I want it all,” “you deserve it,” and “it’s all about me.”  Every advertisement for every product is telling you how wonderful you are, especially if you buy their product.  I have yet to see an ad that tells me to buy something for my neighbor, even though I have seen several that show me how to make my neighbor jealous.  

     Giving advertisements appeal to our emotions and always seem to be about children.  Then there is catastrophe.  That seems to awaken our willingness to think of others.  But in general, our day to day living is to please ourselves.  And sometimes, the battles in the church and the battles perpetrated by the church are the greatest.  And why is that?  In church, we are all there voluntarily, whereas outside the church hierarchies usually exist.  We don’t have to worry about being fired by our bosses or getting a bad grade in school or revenge from our neighbor or getting a traffic ticket.  When church battles outside the church, she claims God as her higher authority and can ignore the governmental authorities in place.

     Once again, as Christians we are called to a higher standard.  We are given two commands in this text.  First, we are to “Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others.” (Romans 14:22 the Message)  Or, as our New International Version says, “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” (Romans 14:22a NIV)  In other words, our relationship with God should be our first and highest priority.  If you are going to drown out the other voices that shout “It’s all about me.” that are generated in our direction, we should be spending as much if not more time with God.  Ask yourself the following question, how much time do you spend with your God, alone or in his house or with his people as compared with listening to public messages?  

     Yes, I know you have to work to provide for your existence; but what about cultivating an awareness of his constant presence even at work?  Lord, I’ve got three projects here on my desk.  Which one do you think I should work on next?  Do you walk every day?  Can you pray while you walk?  Or, what about driving?  Why not turn off the radio and talk with God?  This list can go on and on.  That’s the advantage of having a partner who is everywhere, invisible to the naked eye.  Paul even talked about eating to the glory of God in our text today.  Why not extrapolate that into everything you do?  Make everything you do to the glory of God.  After all, the chief purpose of mankind, according to our Presbyterian heritage is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

     Secondly, Paul tells us we are “to look after the good of the people around us” and “not just do what is most convenient for us.”  (Romans 15:1-2 the Message)  The New International Version reads We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. (Romans 15:1-2 NIV)  Can you imagine the changes there would be in Christian congregations across the world if all we ever did was try to please each other and not please ourselves?

     You want to see church attendance grow?  Hey, I want to be a part of that group.  All they do is try to please each other.  How is that possible?  Pleasing each other was part of Jesus’ original plan.  After washing the feet of the disciples, he told them “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  (John 13:34 NIV)  His command was to love as he loved.  He just got done washing their dusty, dirty feet.  They had traveled on dusty roads in sandals.  This was the responsibility of slaves.  Jesus treated them as masters even though he was the master.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15 NIV)

     Slaves no longer wash our feet.  In fact, we tried to have a foot washing at this church and only two people took advantage of the opportunity.  What would be a modern day example of foot washing?  I remember a story told by a young pastor who was attending his wife who was dying of cancer at home.  He had lots of visitors praying for him.  He had many meals brought to him.  He had cards sent to him.  There were many who tried to offer words of encouragement.  His heart was so broken and he was in so much despair that he hardly remembered a word said, or a prayer offered, or a meal eaten.  He usually didn’t even open the mail.  What he remembered during those last three months was an elderly woman from his church that came over every week.  She would come in the back door which he always left open.  She did not try to talk to him.  She came with her bucket and scrub brush and cleaner and cleaned the toilet.  

Let’s pray. 

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(Sermon, "WHEN CAN WE SAY SOMETHING" as Preached)

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WHEN CAN WE SAY SOMETHING

9/17/17

 (Sermon as Written)

Proverbs 6:16-19 (NIV)

 

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:  haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

 These verses from Proverbs have always fascinated me.  First of all, I have always believed that God never had levels of sins.  He tells us that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23 NIV) and that the wages earned of that sin is death. (Romans 6:23 NIV)  According to this statement, the punishment is the same for all sins, death.  Unlike us, who think the punishment should fit the crime, God doesn’t seem to have any problem offering one punishment for all crimes.

But here we see six things that God hates and seven that are detestable.  We don’t really know the extra one added to the detestable list; however, since being detestable seems to be a level above hating, I don’t think it really matters.

I was first struck by this list in reading its contents in the original Living Bible.  It had listed these in modern terms.  Right along with murder, that is “hands that shed innocent blood,” was listed gossip “a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”  Putting gossip in the same list with murder was a new concept to me, yet gossip is another one of those major sins within the church.  And trust me, I know I am not innocent myself.  We, of course as Christians, like to gloss over this one.  It sounds something like this.  “I am only telling you this so that you can pray for her” or him whichever it may be.  We easily cloak this sin in so many disguises that we hardly recognize it.  When we say anything negative about another person to third person, we sin.  

Some of you know that I am a big fan of the writing of Jane Austin.  I have 18 movie versions of her books and she only wrote six books.  In one of her books, a specific conversation struck me.  In Mansfield Park, two cousins are conversing about the dinner they were at the previous evening.  

“‘Well, Fanny, and how do you like Miss Crawford now?’ … ‘But was there nothing in her conversation that struck you, Fanny, as not quite right?’  ‘Oh, yes! She ought not to have spoken of her uncle as she did.  I was quite astonished.  An uncle with whom she has been living so many years, and who, whatever his faults may be, is so very fond of her brother, treating him, they say, quite like a son.  I could not have believed it!’”[i]  Her cousin goes on to add “I do not censure her opinions: but there is certainly impropriety in making them public.”[ii]

Fanny’s astonishment forced me to go back and read the dinner conversation.  I had read nothing that would astonish me.  The worst I could find was the following:  “Of various admirals I could tell you a great deal; of them and their flags, and the gradation of their pay, and their bickerings and jealousies.  But, in general, I can assure you that they are all passed over, and all very ill used.  Certainly, my home at my uncles’ brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals.  Of Rears and Vices, I saw enough.”[iii]  Did you even hear the insult?  Perhaps you would need to study the text to find it.  In fact, if we were to compare our speech, our everyday conversation, with that time period, we would probably all suffer from public impropriety.

Our gospel lesson today was taken from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is dealing with laws.  He said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22 NIV)  Angry?  Who has not been angry with a brother or sister, or a brother or sister in Christ?  And Jesus tells us we are subject to the same judgment as if we had murdered them.  With this understanding of God’s command, it is no wonder that murder and gossip are in the same list.

So what are we supposed to do?  Our answer lies in the Epistle Reading of this morning, Ephesians 4:17-32.  Paul is writing to these Christians to reject the old way of life which is corrupted by succumbing to our personal desires.  He challenges us to be made new in our attitudes because we are created to be like God.  He tells us never to let the sun go down while we are still angry because this gives Satan a foothold in our minds.  

Then comes the key verse, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)  Wow!  What would our rating be if we were charged for every unwholesome thing we said and paid for every helpful thing we said?  Would we be in the black or the red?

I always felt inadequate as a manager because I was never trained.  As a result, attending management seminars was a high priority for me.  At one seminar, we were challenged to put pennies in our left pocket.  Every time we gave a compliment throughout the day to our staff, we could move a penny from the left pocket to the right.  Every time we corrected or scolded someone on our staff, we were to move a penny from the right to the left.  This seminar leader even suggested that we couldn’t address a problem unless we had pennies still in the right pocket.

If we, as Christians, are always building others up according to their need, they would be much more willing to listen to changes that need to be made in their lives.  We would be seen as people who recognize their talents and their strengths and what they offer to others.  Once we are seen as someone who truly understands, then we can be seen as someone who aids in their benefits.

Any time we talk to another about a third person and that talk is not positive, we are gossiping.  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.”  There is no way gossip behavior can be construed as anything other than unwholesome talk.  Those of us who are” “external processors; those who think their emotions through by opening their mouths have to be much more careful than those who are “internal processors.”  

So, as Christians, let’s renew an old era.  Let only those things that are “helpful for building others up according to their needs” pass our lips.  If you think I am pointing a finger at you, please remember there are three fingers pointing back at me.  Let’s help each other to be God-like.  Paul’s next line in this passage admonishes us to not grieve the Holy Spirit and then commands us to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:31 NIV)  Let’s remind each other.  Is that helpful?  Are you building that person up?  Is what you are saying meeting their needs?  I give any of you permission to remind me.

If you think sticking to building up others is difficult, Paul reminds us about how much God has forgiven us.  “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV)  That verse was one of those verses memorized as a child, one that I even remember where it is found in the Bible.  God has used it so many times in my own life, times when old grievances or moments of unforgiveness creep back into my memory or even live into my life in person.  He is so gentle when he reminds me, but his words can cut to the heart.  Forgive, my child, as I have forgiven you.  

Let’s pray. 


[i] Austin, Jane.  Mansfield Park.  Random House, Inc.: New York, NY, 1981.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

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(Sermon, "WHEN CAN WE CORRECT SOMETHING" as Preached)

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WHEN CAN WE CORRECT SOMETHING

9/10/17

(Sermon as Written)

 

Matthew 18:15-17 (NIV)

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

 We have had a summer of very light sermons.  We have looked at some of our favorite hymns.  As we go through this list, we find they are encouraging and uplifting.  We walk away from both the sermon and the songs feeling better about our God and even ourselves.  Now I am going to leave preaching and am heading into meddling.  I want to look at what I am calling “Sins of the Church.”  I am referring here to the universal church.  These are sins that seem to pervade every church organization, ones that we as Christians have trouble avoiding for as long as there have been Christians.

We don’t like to talk about sins, especially if they are sins of which we are guilty.  In fact, we might even prefer to miss church so that we don’t have to suffer through tougher revelations.  If we truly love the Lord with all our heart, we will want to learn what pleases him and what displeases him, even the tough things.

The first topic I want to deal with is exactly when should we correct someone regarding their behavior or attitude and what is the Biblical way of doing it.  The Universal Church throughout history has been accused of judgmentalism, a public and vocal stand against what it believes is wrong behavior.  Sometimes this behavior has even been done in the name of evangelism.  Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (1 Corinthians 5:12 NIV)  In other words, we have no right to judge anyone who does not claim to be a Christian.  I am sure if you work as a judge or if you serve on jury, you are exempt from this.  But think how much judgment the Universal Church has administered to the rest of the world.  For centuries, the church has been trying to inflict its morals on the rest of the world.  Now getting personal, how often have you or how often have I judged someone who does not claim Jesus Christ as Savior?

OK, so let us assume we never judge anyone outside the church.  What is our guide to inside the church?  In the passage where Paul is making the statement I have already quoted, he is judging a Christian for a sin that is “of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate.” (1 Corinthians 5:1b NIV)  For example, we know that murder and theft are both considered wrong by our pagan government.  Certainly, Christians should not be involved in such actions.  In the case of Corinthian church, there was a member who was sleeping with his father’s wife.  Although this is not against the law in our society, most pagans here would also have a problem with that situation as well.  Paul’s concern is that Christ’s church is called to higher standards than the society in which it exists.  Persons who claim to be Christians should not be involved in actions which the pagan world considers wrong.  

Such behavior should be addressed by those who are spiritual.  In Galatians 6:1 we read Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” (NIV) 

We have several clues in this verse about talking to someone about what they have done:  1) they must be caught in the sin; 2) the confronter must be living by the spirit; and 3) he or she is to do it gently.  In another letter, Paul tells us that we are to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15 NIV)

Does caught in the sin mean that the Christian is involved in an ongoing altercation or does it mean there are witnesses?  I tend to think it is an ongoing sin.  However, I think the second issue is more important.  Is your life spirit led?  How many hours a day do you spend talking with God, listening for his voice?  Listening to the wisdom of other Christians and reading your Bible?  There must be a constant communication with God the Father to be a Spirit-Driven life.  To truly understand how difficult this might be, try for just one day to ask God—“What should I do next?” before proceeding to anything else.  Then take the time to listen to his response.  I find this a very difficult task; and I’m actually employed in the work of his church.

We must have a good knowledge of the sin, all the facts.  We must be leading a spirit driven life and the last item deals with the method of addressing the issue.  This last item has to do with the presentation—gently and with the love of Christ.  In addition, the Gospel lesson tells us how.  “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.”  (Matthew 18:15 NIV)  Jesus said you must go to your brother or sister in Christ and talk just between the two of you.  Here I believe is the greatest violation among Christians.  They will talk to their friends, they might write notes to the person (sometimes signed and sometimes unsigned), and they will write notes to others.  But to go and talk to their brother or sister?  

It was just about this time last year that I made mention of a problem here in this church.  There had been a rash of unsigned notes and information passed through others during the summer.  I pay little attention to these types of communication because I know to do so is against God’s word.  But it had started to affect someone else and I had finally spoken out.  After my presentation, Sharon found an article that suggested that pastor’s should have someone in the congregation to intercept all such communications as a protection for the pastor.  People, there are so many grey areas in Scripture—at least grey to us, ones that could be taken more than one way.  I have just mentioned one concerning the idea of being “caught in sin.”  But nowhere in Scripture is the Christian given permission to simply send a note or a letter.  If one does not have the courage to speak personally with the one who they feel has sinned, then they should let it go.

If you go to that person and talk, you might find out you have the facts wrong or your perspective might have to change.  Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People tells us “Our paradigms, correct or incorrect, are the sources of our attitudes and behaviors, and ultimately our relationships with others.”[i]  We are uncomfortable with change.  We like to hang on to our paradigms whether they are correct or incorrect.  Paradigms don’t change if you only complain to others or write a letter or note.  But if you speak privately with the person whom you believe is in the wrong, there is a chance you will need to change the source of your attitude.

Mr. Covey tells a story to illustrate his point about a change of information changing his attitude.  “I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York.  People were sitting quietly—some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed.  It was a calm.

“Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car.  The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed. 

“The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation.  The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers.  It was very disturbing.  And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing. 

“It was difficult not to feel irritated.  I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all.  It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too.  So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, ‘Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people.  I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?’ 

“The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right.  I guess I should do something about it.  We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago.  I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.’ 

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment?  My paradigm shifted.  Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently.  My irritation vanished.  I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain.  Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely.  ‘Your wife just died?  Oh, I’m so sorry!  Can you tell me about it?  What can I do to help?’  Everything changed in an instant.”[ii] 

God created us and he knows better than anyone how our minds work.  He said, “Go to that person and talk with them privately.”  Speak gently and in Christian love.  And make it a conversation.  Saying what you have to say and then leaving is not talking with that person. 

If Mr. Covey had fumed behind his own newspaper instead of addressing the man, he would have returned home full of irritation.  Yet he didn’t.  He was filled with compassion.  If Christians want to be seen as very different people, people who are free from many of the negative feelings we have against others, we need to follow the instructions of Jesus.  Otherwise, we are no different from the pagan world.  This would truly set us apart.  “Go and talk privately with that person.”  

Let’s pray. 

 


[i] Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  New York, NY:  1989.

[ii] Ibid.

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(Sermon, "GOD WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU" as Preached)

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GOD WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU

9/3/17

(Sermon as Written)

1 Peter 5:5b-11 (NIV)

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

 

I am going to do something a little different this morning. You know, I love to do that just to keep you on your toes. Today, I am not going to read for you from the New International Version, but from the Scripture paraphrase called The Message. I am using a passage of Scripture written by Paul that is a little more difficult to understand. You know even Peter had problems understanding Paul sometimes because Peter wrote “His letters,” that is Paul’s, “contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16b NIV)  

 

One Sunday in 1904, Walt was scheduled to preach some distance from the Bible School in Lestershire, NY, where he was spending several weeks to make a songbook for the president of that school.  His wife, Villie, was confined to bed with illness.  Walt wanted to cancel his trip out of concern for his wife.  While Walt and Villie were discussing the matter, their nine-year-old son entered the conversation.  “Father,” he said, “don’t you think that if God wants you to preach today, He will take care of Mother while you are away?”  Can you imagine the response of this Baptist Minister?  The Psalmist wrote Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.”  (Psalm 8:2 KJV)  Or, as Eugene Peterson wrote in the Message, “Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you; toddlers shout the songs that drown out enemy talk, and silence atheist babble.” (Psalm 8:2 the Message)  

 

Rev. Walter Stillman Martin went to that preaching engagement.  When he returned home that evening, his wife’s condition was greatly improved.  She handed him a poem she had written during the day, inspired by the words of her son.  Within an hour, Walter sat down at his little Bilhorn organ and wrote the music.  “That very evening a couple of other teachers at the school came by, and they all sang the song together. Later in the week it was sung at one of the school assemblies, and the suggestion was made for it to be included in the new hymnbook. Thus, it was first published in 1905 in ‘Songs of Redemption,’ compiled by Martin and John A. Davis.”[i]  Today we still sing “God Will Take Care of You.” 

 

I found that Civilla Durfee Martin has composed the words to 471 hymns which she wrote as poems that were put to music.  She has written another hymn with which this congregation is very familiar.  Don Fernandez has sung it for us several times.  “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”  “She once reflected, ‘I wrote the song 'His Eye Is on the Sparrow' in the company of a bedridden saint in the city of Elmira, New York. I was reading and singing to her; and during our conversation, I chanced to ask her if she did not sometimes get discouraged. This is when she responded about God's care for the sparrow. Her answer prompted me to find paper and pencil, and in a very short time I had completed the poem.’”[ii]

 

The theme of both songs is concerning God’s care for us.  Peter says Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7 NIV)  Using this verse from 1 Peter and others, Matthew 6:25, Psalm 84:11 and Romans 8:28, Matthew Henry created the following paraphrase, “Throw your cares, which are so cutting and distracting, which wound your souls and pierce your hearts, upon the wise and gracious providence of God; trust in him with a firm composed mind, for he careth for you. He is willing to release you of your care, and take the care of you upon himself. He will either avert what you fear, or support you under it. He will order all events to you so as shall convince you of his paternal love and tenderness towards you; and all shall be so ordered that no hurt, but good, shall come unto you.”[iii]

 

There are three important messages in this verse.  1)  First, Peter says to cast ALL your cares on God.  2) Secondly, when we labor under anxiety, we are distracted from doing what God calls us to do. And 3) three, if we do not give them over to God’s care, we are telling God we don’t trust him.  

 

First, cast all your cares.  The author wants us to know that God cares about everything.  In Matthew, Jesus says “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”  (Matthew 10:30 NIV)  I often think of that verse as I am combing my hair and one of those long ones come out.  Believing that God has a sense of humor, I frequently ask him, “Lord, have you subtracted this one out?”  God knows you have personal cares, family cares, cares for the present, cares for the future, cares for yourself, cares for others, and cares for the church.  God wants them all.  He doesn’t separate your spiritual life from your physical life.  He doesn’t separate your relationships with Christians with your relationship with non-Christians.  He wants all your cares.

 

Secondly, when we labor under our cares, we become distracted from what we have been called to do.  A perfect example of this is in the story about this song.  Rev. Martin was about to cancel his speaking engagement.  It took a child to remind him of God’s ability to protect his mother.  No wonder Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3 NIV)  If you are like me, you worries have affected your health.  How many sleepless nights have we spent because we couldn’t shut down the worry center?

 

Lastly, casting our cares on him is trust!  Peter didn’t write, give your cares to God.  He said cast.  Cast here means to throw something forcefully in a specified direction.  He means we are to get rid of it!  Our something is our cares and our specified direction is at God.  Next time you pray about your worries, imagine yourself throwing bricks as hard as you can in God’s direction.  He can handle it.  You have to trust him.

 

And then, don’t pick them back up.  Do you really want to tell God “Oh, by the way, I’m taking these problems back on because I don’t really believe I can trust you with my problems?  I think I can do a much better job of handling these things that are wrong.  Who do you think you are after all, God?”  I am so glad God is gracious as well as a father who cares, who counts the number of hairs on my head.

 

Once, when I was on crutches, Sawyer and Eve were with me at a strip center.  After I finished shopping, we had some extra time before we were to meet Grandpa.  I let the kids play for a while; and I laid my crutches against a tree and sat down in the driver’s seat of my car.  After about 20 minutes, we took off to meet Grandpa for dinner.  Since I did not have to stand, I had left the crutches there.  I did not discover it until I was in the Wendy’s parking.  I had the kids tell Grandpa that I was going to look for the crutches as I sent them into the restaurant.  But Sawyer didn’t stop with the message to Grandpa.  He added, “Let’s pray right now that the crutches are still there.”  A little 6-year-old boy taught me a lesson that day about casting all cares.

 

God wants all your cares.  He wants you focused on doing what he has asked you to do and not your problems.  He wants you to throw everything his direction to prove that you truly trust him to handle all things.

 

Let’s pray.  


[i] http://www.therestorationmovement.com/_states/georgia/martin.htm

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/1-peter/5.html

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