Sermons

Rev. Rhoda's Weekly Sermons

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GUEST SPEAKER:  DEBORAH JO DURR

WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN?

 1/7/18

 (Sermon as Written) 

 

So many times I have asked myself this question and I suspect most of you have as well.  We look around us and see all the suffering, pain, turmoil and we wonder why? Why did God allow our loved one to get cancer, to be involved in a car wreck, to have a stroke, lose their business, etc.?

 

This same question has been asked for thousands of years. Look at poor Job. He is a good and prosperous family man who meets with horrendous disasters that take away all that he holds dear, including his children, his health, and his property.

 

Then we have Joseph who went through terrible suffering. He was sold into slavery, falsely accused of a crime and imprisoned.

 

In the twentieth century we experienced two World Wars, the Holocaust, genocides, famines and ethnic cleansings. Now in the 21st century we have 911, ISIS, Taliban and on and on.

 

In my research for this sermon I decided to categorize it into four parts to help me and hopefully you, try to get a better understanding of why  “bad things” happen.

 

First…God is not the creator of evil and suffering. So we ask “Who is”?  When God created us in his image he wanted us to experience him. And who is he…he’s love. In order to give us the ability to love He had to bestow free will so we could decide whether or not to love. If he had not given us free will we would be like robots just repeating and doing as He said. Free will gives us the ability to experience love as it is a choice. We were created for the purpose of a relationship. If He didn’t give us free will to offer that love, our love would be meaningless.  Free will exercised without natural consequences is not free will at all.

 

The first demonstration of free will goes to Adam and Eve whose choice was not good and thus allowed evil and suffering to enter our world. We humans have continued these bad choices for years by rejecting God and turning away from Him.

 

You might ask, “Didn’t God see this coming”? I’m sure He did. We know as prospective parents the pain, trouble and suffering that comes with children. Yet we choose to have them anyway because we also know the joy and pride they bring as well. God knew some of us would follow him and it was all worth it for that.

 

Second…Even in suffering good can come. Hear God’s promise to us. Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

 

His promise doesn’t say when or how. It just says good will come of it. But most importantly, it says it will come to those who love Him. This promise is only made to those who are committed to following Him. He can use these “bad things” to draw us closer to Him, to mold and shape our character if we trust and follow Him.

 

Two examples of His turning bad into good are the previous Bible characters we mentioned. Job was restored to an even better condition than his former wealthy state.  He was blessed with seven more sons and three daughters who were said to be the most beautiful women in the land. Good from bad.

 

Joseph was eventually put in a role of great authority where he saved the lives of his family and many others. Good from bad.

 

Next you may say “Well my circumstance is so bad there is nothing God or anyone else can do to make it better!”

Hello…did God not have good come out of the worst catastrophe that has happened in the history of the world; the death of His Son on the cross? He turned it into the best thing that has happened in the history of the world! Good from bad.

 

 

 

Third…Judgement Day.  God could stop all the suffering and evil in the world right now if He wanted to. So what’s stopping Him? Perhaps it’s you, or me or your neighbor, or your son or daughter? I don’t know but I would like to think God wants all of us to live in eternity with Him and He’ll take as long as necessary for that to come to fruition.

 

Second Peter 3:9 says: “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

 

Fourth…so how do we deal with our “bad things”? We can and some do, turn angry and bitter and live a life of never ending despair. Personally, that’s not for me and I hope it isn’t for you. My choice is to turn to God for comfort and refuge.

 

As one philosopher said: “I believe all suffering is at least potential good, an opportunity for good. It’s up to our free choice to actualize that potential. Not all of us benefit from suffering and learn from it, because that’s up to us; it’s up to our free will.”

 

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. But be courageous! I have conquered the world.” This scripture assures us that God can give us the two things we need to deal with our “bad things”. He will give us peace so we can handle the present and courage to handle our future.

 

Sometimes we feel there’s only so much we can bear. The stress of these “bad things” is really getting us down. I saw on   Facebook this week a demonstration relating to stress that I’d like to share with you now as it really hit home for me.

 

Here is a glass half full of water. How heavy do you think it is? It really doesn’t matter. What matters is how long I hold it. At first it isn’t difficult at all. If I hold it up for an hour I suspect my arm will start to throb. If I hold it up half the day many parts of my body will start to hurt. In addition my concentration will only be on that glass and the pain and agony I’m experiencing holding it up. The rest of my day has gone by unnoticed, not experienced or enjoyed because of this glass. By the time night comes I am physically and emotionally exhausted and nothing has been accomplished in my day.

 

That was my free will choice. I think it was a bad choice. Had I set the glass down and gone on about my business I probably would have accomplished something and possibly even enjoyed myself.

 

We need to relinquish our “bad things” to God by “setting the glass down”. Turn to Him and just love and praise Him for all He has given us and done for us.

 

 

Finally, when tragedy strikes, as it will; when suffering comes, as it will; when you’re wrestling with pain, as you will…make the choice to go to God. There you’ll find peace to deal with the present, courage to deal with your future and the incredible promise of eternal life. 

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(Audio is Unavailable)

GUEST SPEAKER:  SHARON WILCOX

RESPONSIBLE JOY

 12/31/17  

 

 (Sermon as Written) 

The Christ Child has been born! A new baby is here!

Think of the excitement of a new baby coming into the family. People are attracted and show it in their comments like:  “ how sweet, how adorable “ . A baby becomes a magnet- no matter where you may go with the baby people will comment or show smiles of appreciation of the sweet innocent baby in your arms. Now that the baby is here your whole life changes! Schedules change to the needs of the baby. There are the feedings, diapers, sleeping etc. We accommodate the child.

          What if we adjusted our priorities to put Jesus first in our lives?

A baby fills us with love. The snuggles and cuddles make us forget what else is going on. Is this a way to peace.  What if we hold Jesus with such love?  As we have journeyed through this season I hope all have found that the birth of this child, Jesus, has brought some peace in your life.

          Today’s readings begin with the creation and the “Joy to the world.”  We are summoned to praise and thanksgiving in the cacophony of the animals and elements to praise the Lord! We see the law of the Old Testament being recognized and followed.

          It is time for the dedication of Jesus, time to take him to the temple in Jerusalem. Waiting patiently there are Simeon an elderly prophet, and Anna, who for many years has been working there “with fasting and prayer night and day.” She is in her nineties and was married earlier for seven years and lost her spouse, ever since has been at the temple.  The text doesn’t tell how vocal she has been in the past – whether people came to seek her counsel, whether she made public pronouncements or whether she led a sequestered life. The author of Luke portrays her as doing two things. She supports  Simeon’s blessing and she began to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

          There is very little to learn and little heard about Anna. Yet, Luke has Anna’s role as  a critical one in this narrative. She not only offers a blessing to the family of Jesus but begins speaking about the child “to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. “ Anna was very specific.

          To better understand who the people were and why seeking redemption for Jerusalem we need to look at the historical context. While many of us have heard of Anna we certainly remember the words heard each year at Christnmas Eve that come from the Gospel of Luke. “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered “ (2:!) During the two generations before Jesus’ birth, Rome had expanded its empire into the eastern Mediterranean, brutally conquering, enslaving, and suppressing the Hebrew people. Unlike the other regions Rome had conquered, the Judeans and the Galileans resisted both the invasion and the occupation from the beginning. Biblical scholar and historian, Richard Horsley paints this horrifying picture for us.

Quoting from his book The New World Order: In conquest and reconquest the Roman armies systematically pursued “scorched earth” and search and destroy” practices in order to terrorize the population and ferret out all pockets of resistance. The legions destroyed villages, slaughtered the inhabitants, or at least the elderly and took tens of thousands of the younger and able bodied to sell as slaves back in Rome and the rest of Italy.  A standard feature of the Roman terrorization was the crucifixion of hundreds or thousands on stakes or crosses along the roads, again to remind the people of Roman domination.  Right around the time Jesus was born, in the area around Nazareth where he presumably grew up the Romans had burned houses and enslaved thousands of people in response to a widespread popular revolt in 4BCE.

Rome had appointed Herod as King of Judeans and shrewdly used the temple-state in Jerusalem to consolidate and manage the Roman occupation. Herod installed his own appointees in the temple to replace the former Jewish dynasty of the high priests, the Hasmoneans. Herod even embarked on a temple restoration project that made it one of the most magnificent temples in the ancient world. The Jerusalem temple was a center for Jews worldwide to make pilgrimages, offering tribute to God and also Rome- literally. The temple was a collection point for Roman tribute owed to the empire by conquered peoples. Meanwhile the Pharisees, who were not in the temple but lodged in neighboring communities  endeavored to teach and practice traditional covenant ways of life in less than ideal circumstances. Upon Herod’s death in 4 BCE popular revolts ensued to every area that been held under control.

Now with that history, let’s look again at this elderly couple who had been practicing in the temple for years. Why might the author of Luke note the specific length of time Anna had been there? Because it signals that Anna was present in the temple during reign of the Hasmonean dynasty, the Jewish families whose rule was conquered by Rome in 66 BCE. Anna embodies the living memory of the Jewish people’s freedom and self-rule.

When Anna “speaks about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” she is carefully speaking to those Jews who were seeking to resist, create alternatives to, or overthrow Rome’s occupation. And she is doing so from the temple, the site Herod had co-opted to solidify Roman rule in the region. She is organizing from “the belly of the beast”, from the temple, the symbolic and administrative heart of Rome’s brutal occupation.

Both Anna and Simeon are the first in Luke’s gospel to see and understand that Jesus’ coming points to the Jewish people coming back toward covenant ways of life that had been disrupted and corrupted by Rome. But, Anna is the only one who cleverly reaches out. Through these conversations she laid the groundwork for the adult Jesus’ message to take root. To the people who still shook with terror of past invasion, to mothers who had their sons enslaved , to all who were fed up with Rome’s manipulation and of their sacred commitments, Anna spread the word of God’s redemption. And through her strategic action, the renewed hope that God’s covenant way of life could not be swallowed whole by Rome. In our time and place, what are the challenges we face as we endeavor to live out God’s covenant? How are we being called to spread the dangerous and helpful news of God’s promised redemption?

As we shared the joy of the coming of the baby Jesus, how do we share in the Responsible Joy today?

How do you incorporate the spreading of God’s word in the community, state, nation, and  world?  What is your New Year’s resolution?

 

Prayer:

Eternal God, we stand before you at the closing of one year and the dawning of a new year that we have structured to count and administer, to judge and weigh. How small our world must seem to you, how bound by our own perception and expectations! God beyond time, your love exceeds  all categories and constraints. Broaden our awareness of your cosmos and our contribution within it. Increase our forbearance toward one another. Strengthen justice in our life together. May there be more of Anna in our lives as we live responsible joy!  Now and always. Amen.

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(Sermon, "PROMISE OF JOY" as Preached)

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PROMISE OF JOY

 12/24/17  

 (Sermon as Written) 

John 15:9-17 (NIV)

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

 

I hope you have found ways to rejoice this Advent season.  If not throughout your week, at least perhaps for this one hour on Sunday morning.  Tonight we will sing and celebrate from our hearts.

As we reflect over this Advent season and our focus on joy, we were given practical ways to bring this joy into our lives.  The first Sunday in Advent, we were challenged to love God and appreciate his wonderful gift of entering his own creation.  How many times did you think about your love for God?  Were you able to spend time just loving him?  Did you thank him for his wonderful gift of coming to earth?  Even now, let us take just a moment of silence think about our love for him. …  Now in this moment, thank him for coming to earth.

The second Sunday in Advent we were admonished to begin practicing the presence of God, like a child with an invisible friend or like a boss who has to know everything that you are doing at all times.  God is always with us; he made us that promise.  He is here whether you sense his presence or not.  Let us take a moment of silence to tell him what we are thinking about, whether it’s Christmas Eve Dinner or the last minute shopping you need to do.  …  Now thank him for being right there beside you.

Last Sunday, we listened to the angel’s message that Jesus’ coming to earth was good news of great joy.  We heard that we should follow the example of the shepherds who first searched for the child, secondly they worshiped the child, and finally they spread the good news they had received.  When we share joyful news, we are rarely able to contain the excitement it solicits. 

And now we have come full circle.  Our Scripture today talks about love.  These words of Jesus are spoken after the Last Supper and before his arrest.  His disciples are upset.  Jesus is talking about leaving them.  For them this is a disaster.  They had given up everything to follow Jesus.   These were the disciples who stayed loyal to him through the three years even when others had deserted him.  How could he leave them? 

First, he promises them the Holy Spirit and then talks about inner peace, that is so desirous of the Christian.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV)  Jesus offers up his peace.  In our passage today, Jesus wanted us to remain in his love for us.  From a spiritual understanding, we have Jesus’ peace and his love available to us.  And following both of these, we have the promise of joy.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”  (John 15:11 NIV) What a tremendous promise!  We can experience this joy here and now, but one day it will be complete.  We experience it through loving him in grateful appreciation, in practicing his presence with us and in spreading the good news.  We can even rejoice in the promise of what is to come.

Many of you know that as a child, I was forced to memorize Scripture.  I have inflicted the same treatment on my confirmation class; however, they only have to memorize a verse a week.  I had to learn a verse a day.  Truthfully, today I believe it was worthwhile or I would not expect the same of my class.

One of the passages we memorized was the last two chapters of the Bible, the vision of our final home.  Whenever any of us girls had a nightmare, my mother would have us start to recite this picture of heaven.  Everything changed.

I want you to experience a bit of this joy of his promise.  I’m going to ask you to do something a little different.  In a moment, I will ask you to close your eyes and let the images that I read to you spool through your mind.  Be a child enjoying a story read to you.  Allow these words to fill your hearts with the promise of the joy that is yet to come.  I won’t read the entire passage, just selections.  Just relax, enjoy the presence of God, and close your eyes.

 

I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.

I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.

3-5 I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” …

6-8 Then he said, “It’s happened. I’m A to Z. I’m the Beginning, I’m the Conclusion. From Water-of-Life Well I give freely to the thirsty. Conquerors inherit all this. I’ll be God to them, they’ll be sons and daughters to me. …

9-12 … “Come here. I’ll show you the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb.” He took me away in the Spirit to an enormous, high mountain and showed me Holy Jerusalem descending out of Heaven from God, resplendent in the bright glory of God.

12-14 The City shimmered like a precious gem, light-filled, pulsing light. She had a wall majestic and high with twelve gates. …

15-21 … The wall was jasper, the color of Glory, and the City was pure gold, translucent as glass. The foundations of the City walls were garnished with every precious gem imaginable: the first foundation jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate a single pearl.

21-27 The main street of the City was pure gold, translucent as glass. But there was no sign of a Temple, for the Lord God—the Sovereign-Strong—and the Lamb are the Temple. The City doesn’t need sun or moon for light. God’s Glory is its light, the Lamb its lamp! The nations will walk in its light and earth’s kings bring in their splendor. Its gates will never be shut by day, and there won’t be any night. … Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will get in.

1-5 Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed. The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. His servants will offer God service—worshiping, they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. Never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs. …

6-7 

8-9 

10-11 

12-13 “Yes, I’m on my way! I’ll be there soon! I’m bringing my payroll with me. I’ll pay all people in full for their life’s work. I’m A to Z, the First and the Final, Beginning and Conclusion.

14-15 “How blessed are those who wash their robes! The Tree of Life is theirs for good, and they’ll walk through the gates to the City. …

16 “I, Jesus, sent my Angel to testify to these things for the churches. I’m the Root and Branch of David, the Bright Morning Star.”

17 “Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.
Whoever hears, echo, “Come!”
Is anyone thirsty? Come!
All who will, come and drink,
Drink freely of the Water of Life!

18-19 

20 He who testifies to all these things says it again: “I’m on my way! I’ll be there soon!”

Yes! Come, Master Jesus!

21 The grace of the Master Jesus be with all of you. Oh, Yes!

(Selections from Revelation 21-22 the Message)

 

Let’s pray.

 

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(Sermon, "GOOD NEWS OF JOY" as Preached)

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GOOD NEWS OF JOY

 12/17/17  

 

 (Sermon as Written) 

 

Luke 2:6-20 (NIV)

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

 

Can you imagine what it would have been like that night to be watching sheep and have, not just one angel, but a great company join them?  Would not their presence alone have brought joy?  We would talk about it for years to come.  Our children would probably tell their children and so on.

We have turned our focus this Christmas season to the joy we should experience during this time.  Often times, we are not joyful.  We are rushed trying to get all the things, like shopping and baking, done in time for Christmas.  Or maybe, we are sad because we don’t get to spend the holidays with those we wish to spend them.  There are also those who do not have the financial resources to be able to give all they want to give.  But these are all things of this world.  God invites us into his presence to celebrate his gift of entering his creation.

We have talked about how loving God with an undivided heart and focusing our attention on his gift will increase our joy throughout the season.  Last week, we received practical applications for practicing the presence of God in our everyday lives.  Today, I want to focus on the gift itself and our response.

The angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-11 NIV)  First, he tries to calm the shepherds; second, he gives the message; and thirdly, he tells them what to do.

First, “Do not be afraid.”  Scriptures tells us they were terrified!  Angels are actively involved in the birth scenario of Jesus.  One meets Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, to announce John’s birth.  Secondly, one appears to Mary; and Joseph sees his angel in a dream.  I remember when I first performed “The Christmas Story…as told in the Bible” one woman was very upset that I played the angel as rather frightening.  Richelle directed all three of my productions and she thought the angel should be frightening.  The Scripture always gives the response more often as terror.  It is no wonder that the angel tells them not to be afraid.

Secondly, the angel gives them the news.  This news is to bring great joy for all people.  Up until this time, the God of Israel, Yahweh by name, was only for the Jewish people.  They were God’s special chosen people; and even though they had great difficulty in understanding their role as the people who were to reveal God to the world, God was now making it clear from the very beginning of his entrance into his creation that his coming was for ALL people.  The idea that this promised Messiah was coming for the whole world was not something the people really understood.  In fact, their belief that he was to save them from the tyranny of Rome manifested itself in one of the final questions the disciples asked Jesus before he went back to heaven.  We, ourselves, often struggle with the idea that this good news is for all people.  We start to make decisions about who would really qualify for God’s people.  Certainly not the homeless man or the evil politician.  No, Christ came for all people.

The angels attribute three titles or names to this baby:  Savior, Christ, and the Lord.  We use the word savior in reference to Jesus so often that it may have lost some of the power of the angel’s meaning.  It would be easy to think of saving the Jewish people from Rome, but that was not God’s intended purpose.  Jesus himself said that he came to seek and to save the lost.  He came to save us from the power of sin.  He came to save us from ourselves.  We have available to us someone who created us and knows everything there is to know about us.  He knows our future; he knows our past; and he knows exactly the purpose for which we were created.  Now wouldn’t it make perfect sense to utilize his love and wisdom to direct every moment of our lives? 

Remember the commercial about the guy who was wearing a helmet so his “life coach” could give him constant instructions about every moment of his life.  He actually found it very annoying and many of us laughed about the commercial.  God can be that for us and we don’t even have to wear a helmet.  Yet, we so like to do things our own way.  And when we do, we usually mess things up.  Yes, Jesus came to save us from that.

Secondly, he came as the Messiah.  Messiah is the Hebrew word for Christ.  Christ is the Greek word for Messiah.  They both mean the same thing.  They both mean God’s anointed.  Jesus was the promised, long-awaited Messiah.  The angel said it was so.  Considering how much of their culture centered on this coming Messiah, it is no wonder this announcement was good news of great joy!

Lastly, he is the Lord.  Much of that word is lost on us today.  We think of the English title of lord, or we think of the medieval lords of castles.  We call God Lord, but do we really understand what it would have meant to those shepherds.  Almighty God was named Yahweh.  When the Jewish people came back from exile to Babylon, they were suddenly very concerned about keeping the Old Testament law.  After all, Babylon was their punishment for disobedience.  One of their concerns was the commandment of taking God’s name in vain.  The Pharisees, the moral police of first century Judaism, decided it would just be best if the name was not spoken at all.  So, instead of saying Yahweh when they read the Scriptures, they would say the word Lord, instead of Yahweh.  When the angel said, he is Lord, they meant “He is Yahweh.”

Wasn’t that good news?  God himself, was coming to earth to save them.  He was a God anointed man.   Can you imagine the wonder?  Do you think the shepherds wondered why they were so special to receive the message?  Was there any other response possible but “Let’s go.”

This message is still good news today.  When we are able to drown out all the noises of retailers and plans and Santa and reindeer and Christmas specials and elves, the good news of the Savior, Christ the Lord, is still Good News today.

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And what is supposed to be our response?  I believe the shepherds also present a good example for us.  First, they decide to find the child.  “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15b NIV)  We have talked about practicing the presence of God.  This is our current way to find our God.  He is now here, right beside you every minute.  He is your invisible friend.  Seek his presence just as the shepherds sought out the baby in the manger.

Secondly, I am convinced they were in awe when they went into that scene of Mary and Joseph and the baby.  They were so enamored that they bowed down and worshiped him.  As we feel God’s presence in every aspect of life, we still need to remember to gather together to worship. 

And the last thing the shepherds did?  They had to spread the good news.  They told as many people who would listen.  They told their story with the angels and the manger and the baby Jesus and the poor couple and the …. And on and on.  We are afraid to tell our story.  We are concerned we might upset someone.  It might not be the politically correct thing to say.  Yet, if we knew for certain that Jesus was coming tomorrow, I am convinced that we would stop everything we are doing (we wouldn’t need money anymore) and start to tell the world our story of encounter with the Holy God.  We wouldn’t waste any time!  It wouldn’t matter what they thought or even if we would go to prison for violating some “intolerance” law, because tomorrow Jesus would bring us home.

Dear people, we have good news of great joy.  Share it!  Jesus asked us to be witnesses.  Only you know what God has done for you.  Share it!  When I was a business owner, I had one employee comment on how I talked about my God.  I had never thought about it before.  He said, “you talk about God the same way you share your vacation or you talk about your children.  You talk like he is real.”  Is he real to you?  Then share it!  What has he done for you?  Where have you felt his presence?  How has he made a difference in your own life?  You have good news of great joy.  Don’t keep it to yourself.  Fill the skies with your singing just like the angels.

Let’s pray.

 

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(Sermon, "PRESENCE OF JOY" as Preached)

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PRESENCE OF JOY

 12/10/17  

 (Sermon as Written) 

Luke 1:26-45 (NIV)

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

 

Our Advent theme this year is joy.  If you came from the parking lot behind the church, you will notice the wonderful joy sign made by Bob Witsberger and put there to add to our joy this season. 

In our Scripture lesson, we don’t hear the word joy in the message from the angel, but we do hear the response of Jesus’ cousin to the angel’s message.  Elizabeth tells Mary that “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:44 NIV)  Was Mary joyful?  I imagine that she was probably a little frightened.  She most likely traveled to see Elizabeth, nearly a two week journey, to check out the angel’s message about Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  Mary was probably concerned about telling her parents and Joseph about the pregnancy.  Because the child did not belong to Joseph and because they were not married, in first century Judaism the penalty was death for her pregnancy unless Joseph would claim the child.  Of course, we know that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and instructed Joseph to go ahead with the marriage.  Fortunately, Joseph obeyed.

What reason did Mary have to be joyful in all of this?  We find the angel in the angel’s greeting, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28 NIV)  The Lord was with her!  This wasn’t just any ordinary proclamation.  She had probably heard the message about God’s promise of his presence to a select few.  To Abraham, God said, “Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you.” (Genesis 26:3a NIV)  This promise was repeated to Jacob.  “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” (Genesis 31:3 NIV)  And when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he promised Moses as well, “I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:12a NIV) And lastly, we have God’s reflection on his presence with David.  “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth.” (2 Samuel 7:8-9 NIV) 

Mary had just joined a very elite club.  Current members were Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David.  Surely you can now see how the promised presence of God would bring her joy.

In the New Testament, Jesus extended his presence for all who believed in him.  “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NIV)  If we believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that he died for our punishment, then God is with us.  In the Scripture, the shepherd is often used as a metaphor to teach us about our God.  But because of the differences between that place and here, between that time period and now, we often lose the lesson God is trying to teach us.

“One difference is outstanding.  In America’s Mid-West you’ll find shepherding resembles ranching:  sheep are left to graze in vast fenced-in pastures.  In the Middle East you’ll never find fenced pastures; consequently, you’ll never find a flock grazing without a shepherd. … Sheep scatter without a shepherd.  They run when they sense danger.  Their only hope for protection comes from the shepherd’s presence.  A flock outside in a desert night is helpless unless their shepherd is among them.  … The bonding that occurs as a result of round-the-clock care is remarkable.  Sheep will follow the shepherd who personally provides, protects, and guides.”

We can probably quote Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd…”  But do we count that as a source of joy?  Jesus said that he was the good shepherd.  His practice of shepherding would be with his constant presence.  He doesn’t put into a pasture and just allow us to roam.  He warns of danger, protects us, provides for us, and guides us.  What tremendous reason to celebrate joy in our lives!

In the 1600’s, Brother Lawrence lived and worked at a monastery in France.  “In times as troubled as today, Brother Lawrence, discovered, then followed, a pure and uncomplicated way to walk continually in God’s presence. For some forty years, he lived and walked with Our Father at his side. Yet, through his own words, we learn that Brother Lawrence’s first ten years were full of severe trials and challenges.

A gentle man of joyful spirit, Brother Lawrence shunned attention and the limelight, knowing that outside distraction “spoils all”. It was not until after his death that a few of his letters were collected. Joseph de Beaufort, representative and counsel to the local archbishop, first published the letters in a small pamphlet.”[i]  Today, four hundred years later, these letters and conversations are still published under the title, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.

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Perhaps we can learn something from what Brother Lawrence has written.  More than once in his letters he references that the practice results in joy.  So how do we tap into the joy of his presence?  I must assure you that I can only begin to tap into the treasure of this book.  I have simply picked out two of the many practices of this man.

First, he lived a life of continually conversing with God.  You remember, Paul’s teaching to the Thessalonians “Rejoice always, pray continually.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 NIV)  Think of this in terms of a child.  I’m sure if you did not have one yourself, you have heard of a child or knew a child who had an invisible friend.  This friend would go with them everywhere and be in constant conversation with the child.  Some parents would have to set a place at the table or make room in the car.  Parents were always assured the child would one day outgrow these inclinations.  We have an invisible friend, for real.  We need to treat him in the same way. 

Secondly, “we ought to act with God in the greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs just as they happen.”[ii]  Think of this practice like a boss who is running a project and you are his or her assistance.  Every turn you make and every problem you encounter must be discussed with the boss.  You have no authority to make decisions on the fly.  How different would our lives be if we asked God what we should be doing next or presented every situation the moment we reached a crossroad in our day!

So I leave you today with two practical ways to practice the presence of God.  Talk to him continually and implore His assistance in everything as it happens.  Then, you will find yourself living in the joy of his presence.

Let’s pray.

 


[i] Brother Lawrence.  The Practice of the Presence of God.  The Project Gutenberg Ebook.

[ii] Ibid.

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(Sermon, "INCREASE OF JOY" as Preached)

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INCREASE OF JOY

 12/3/17  

 (Sermon as Written) 

Isaiah 9:1-7 (NIV)

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

 

Most of us have probably heard verse 6 of this passage of Scripture.  It is frequently quoted at Christmas, especially on Christmas Eve.  But this was written probably about 700 years before Christ was ever born.  What was Isaiah writing about?  How was it seen originally by his hearers?  He was probably not well liked because he accused Judah of its violation of God’s law. 

“Choosing their own way rather than God’s way, trusting in human glory rather than in God, the nation has plunged itself into darkness.  Instead of having the protective canopy over them and being guided by the pillar of cloud and lighted by the pillar of fire they are in confusion and darkness, the prey of the very nations they trust in.”[i]  When the Israelites had followed Moses from Egypt, the land of their slavery, through the desert to the Promised Land, each day God led them with a Pillar of Cloud and during the night they were led with a Pillar of fire.  God now left them in darkness.  “But that is not where God intends to leave them.  In the very areas where the Assyrian conquests began, their God promises that the light will dawn.  The people of Israel have done nothing to deserve this; it is nothing but God’s grace.  … 
God is greater than Assyria, and he promises that just as these people have experienced the grief and despair of conquest, they will also experience the joy and triumph of victory.  As Gideon defeated Midian in the Valley of Jezreel, so God will defeat Israel’s enemies in that same place.

“But how will God accomplish this great feat?  Through the birth of a child.  For the third time in as many chapters, the birth of a child is filled with great portent.  In 7:14 the child’s birth was a sign that it was unnecessary for Judah to trust in Assyria for deliverance. … In 8:3 the child’s birth was a sign of the same thing, but also that the misplaced trust was going to result in disaster for the nation of Judah.  Now this birth carries the message another step forward.  Out of disaster God will yet bring final victory.  The repetition of birth and the close connection in the meaning of the three signs argues that all three are expressions of Immanuel.”[ii]  That is, God with Us.

This passage teaches us about the “ultimate significance of Immanuel.  …  God wants light, joy, abundance, liberty, and cessation of hostility—not only for his own people but for all people.”[iii]  The coming of this child will increase our joy.  And “the greatest joy comes from knowing that we are loved, that God our Father holds us in the palm of his hand.  He has everything under control, and we can rest in him.”[iv]

Let me be very clear.  The joy that God gives is not the same as the happiness we get from having fun.  Those moments are like having dessert.  “Fun, like dessert, can never be the main course in our lives.”[v]  “Christian joy … is a gift to those who know God and hold him in their hearts.  If we have that peace beyond all understanding, if spiritual joy bubbles up from within,”[vi] joy becomes contagious.

 “What holds us back from being truly joyful?  Is it suffering?  I don’t think so.  Suffering doesn’t kill joy.  Joy is compatible with everything except sin and a divided heart.  When we give to God only part of our heart, only a part of our lives, knowing that he wants everything, we wind up sad and frustrated.  Our hearts are made to love without conditions without limits.”[vii]

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Do you want to increase your joy this Christmas season?  Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  Focus on the incredible gifts you’ve received through your faith.  Let go of all those things that distract you.

Joy can be simply overwhelming.  For example, “think of a woman who discovers the love of her life and marries him.  It would be very strange if she were to sadly march down the aisle, distressed at having left behind all the other men in the world.  The joy of her marriage washes away the sacrifices that her choice entails.”[viii]

We have an incredible gift.  During this season, God, our god, our creator entered into his very own creation.  Have you ever thought about becoming your quilt?  Have you thought about becoming your woodworked cross?  Have you thought about becoming your chili that you will eat today?  It seems rather silly, doesn’t it?  Yet, God did that!  He became his own creation.  And why?  His main purpose was to save us from ourselves—doing our own thing is sin—and take our punishment for us.  There are consequences of selfishness to a holy and perfect God; and he was willing to enter his creation to suffer the consequences, our consequences.  What an incredible gift!  Focus wholeheartedly on that gift and nothing can take your joy.  The more you are able to do so; the more your joy will increase!

Let’s pray.

 


[i] Oswalt, John N.  The NIV Application Commentary:  Isaiah.  Zondervan:  Grand Rapids, MI.  2003

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Morris, Father Jonathan.  The Way of Serenity.  “It’s All About Joy” Harper Collins Publishers:  New York, NY, 2014

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid. [Changed to a female application]

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