Monday, March 23, 2020

WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT MATTERS


Sermon Summary (3/22/20) “What We Believe About the Holy Spirit Matters” (John 14:15-17; 26-27; Galatians 5:16-25)

Does God talk to us? I mean if we had been there when God told Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to a land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1) would we have been able to tape record it?  What language do you suppose it had been in?  Or does God speak to us in other ways?  Through the heart?

God has spoken to me in a series of ways that have changed my life completely.  I can recall the first time I visited a church in Monroe, Ct. When I observed the liturgist reading scripture, helping with communion, something inside me said, “You can do that.”  A few months later, we invited a pastor to the house to talk to us.  On the way home that night, I can tell you the turn in the road, the house on the hill, the tree on the corner.  An incredible peace came over me.  I was putting myself in God’s hands.  I was going to do whatever he told me to do.  That night the pastor talked to me about Lay Speaker school.  Was God speaking through that pastor? 

I didn’t know it at the time but these conversations, these nudges would change my life completely.  Were they God speaking to me?

We are in a series of sermons on the Apostles’ Creed.  What we believe matters.  Today, What we believe about the Holy Spirit matters.  The third person of the Trinity.  What difference does it make?

John 14 is one of those amazing passages where Jesus introduces us to the Holy Spirit, here he calls it by the Greek word, paraclete.  Para, meaning along side, and clete, to call.  Paraclete, to call along side.  Newer translations say Advocate; the KJV, the Comforter, recent, the Companion.

In John 14, Jesus says he is going away and he is comforting his disciples, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (v.16-17) Forever, and then “abides in you, and he will be in you.” Can you imagine anything more intimate.

And then in v.26 and 27, 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.  27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  Teach you everything.  Peace.  Like the turn in the road.

I am not the person I was 35 years ago at the turn in the road.  What happened?  The Holy Spirit happened.  We believe that God’s redemptive love in human experience is realized through the Holy Spirit.  We call that grace, God’s unmerited love for us that nudges us, saves us, molds us into the person God wants us to be.  Our part is to say, “Yes,” to cooperate with grace.  We become new creations, on to becoming little Christs.  CS Lewis says that is the whole reason for becoming a Christian.

And through that God has changed the world.  Because Christ lived, over the centuries everything has changed, our art, our literature, our philosophies, our governments, how we treat one another in human affairs.  It has all changed.  Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, God has changed and continues to change the world we live in and us.

In Galatians 5:16-22, we find God changes us from being under the power of the flesh (the power that opposes God’s will for us to love one another) to peoples embodying the “Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  Then he says, “There is no law against such things.”  There is simply no limit to how much you can love, or how good or kind you can be.  Wouldn’t the world be better off with a little more self-control?

The Holy Spirit wants to change us.  It is not us, not what we do, but the Holy Spirit within us when we cooperate, when we say “Yes.” Paul tells in Philippians, “I am confident in this, that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”

So may it be for us all.  Amen.


WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT JESUS MATTERS


Sermon Summary (3/15/20) “What We Believe About Jesus Matters” (Matthew 16:13-16; Galatians 1:1-5; The Apostle’s Creed.)

I just shake my head.  I recall a conversation with my pastor when I said, “I believe in God, but I’m just not sure about this Jesus.”  He said nothing.  Either he was biting his tongue or in his wisdom he knew that I’d figure it out. 

But I wasn’t the only one. Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am...who do you say that I am.”  We find out later that Peter didn’t fully understand when he said, “You are the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” 

But who do you say that I am?  We are in series of sermons on the Apostle’s Creed, the dogma of Christianity, what nearly all believe about our faith.  “I believe…”  But it’s one thing to believe, quite another to change our hearts, change our behavior.  What you believe about Jesus matters.

Many today say it doesn’t matter.  The largest growing religious group in America are the “None of the Aboves” the “Nones.”  Yet it is a consensus from non-biblical sources that Jesus lived, walked, taught, was crucified at the hands of Pontius Pilate, that his disciples reported that he rose from the dead.  The “Nones” would say that is myth, legend, made up four centuries later.  I’m going to show you that what we say in the Apostle’s Creed was believed weeks, months, or a few short years after his death if not at the time of his death by hundreds of people and surely by his disciples.

The miracles of Jesus were to show that he was divine, power over the spirit world, “Who is this that even the unclean spirits obey him?” Power over disease by healing Peter’s mother-in-law; no one can forgive sins but God; Power over chaos (creation), “Who is this that even the winds and the waves obey him?”  For those who followed Jesus, he was the divine Son of Godl

The earliest creed of the more than likely dating from 35 to 35 ad was “Jesus is Lord.” (1 Cor 12:3) The sign of the fish, IXTHUS, “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior,” was from the late first century.  In the 2d or 3d century came the Old Roman Symbol, nearly identical to the Apostle’s Creed.  Lastly, Paul’s introduction to the Galatians states “Jesus is Lord,” “Jesus is Son,” “Jesus is Christ,” “Jesus gave himself up for our sins,” “Jesus died for us,” “Jesus rose again,” all as Creed which had to be part of the church by 40 ad.  Philippians and Colossians have hymns of he early church declaring the divinity of Christ that have to range from the 40s ad.

So what do you believe about Jesus?  That he is Savior?  That he died for me?  That he rose again?  That’s what the Apostles believed and they would go to their deaths before they would recant of their beliefs. 

Who is this that even the unclean spirits obey him, that forgives sins, that even the winds and waves obey him?  That gave himself up for me, for me?  He is Lord.  He is the source of everlasting life.  What we believe about him matters.


WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT GOD MATTERS


Sermon Summary (3/8/20) “What We Believe About God Matters” (Psalm 8; Genesis 1:1)

“Let me believe.”  My only prayer for three years following the death of our son.  I came to believe in phases.  First, as a Deist, one who believed that God exists but has left life to us.  Many of our Founding Fathers were Deists.  What they believed mattered.  If God was not involved, the good world was up to them and they had high expectations. 

My son challenged me, “If Jesus came and stood before you, you’d believe in a personal God.”  In essence he did.  God exists, it made sense that God exists, it takes far more faith not to believe than to believe.  It made sense too that if God us Creator, that he would want to reconcile creation to himself and do so by becoming like us, and do so with the greatest act of love that one can do for another and this is to give his life for me.  And if He would do that, He is a very personal God.

The problem is that so many are rejecting or ignoring God.  They don’t give him the time of day.  And then there are those who are practical Atheists.  They believe in God but it has no impact on the way they live.

Where are you?  Where are you on the spectrum of belief?  We say in the Creed: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”  This sermon is the beginning of a six part sermon series on the Apostle’s Creed, “I Believe,” in Latin, “Credo.”  What we believe matters as does how casual our believe is.  I can say, “I believe the Cardinals are going to win the World Series.”  Fan Faith.  It has little to do with my behavior.  I can get a little political, “I believe in the Second Amendment.”  Or like the Founding Fathers: “We hold these truths to be self-evident….to which we pledge our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.”  I wish our Christian faith was so.

When we read the Psalms, we are reading the words of passionate believers, “When I look at the stars, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place.”  You can feel the passion.  So what’s gone wrong?

In the 18th century, science emerged.  Science became our god.  In the 19th century, the “Origin of the Species.”  Evolution became our god.  In the 20th Century, the Big Bang.  Some saw no need for god.  In the 21st century, ardent Atheist authors who see religion as the source of all evil. 

Yet the dozens of clues that God has left in the universe overwhelmingly convince me that there is a God.  Here’s just five: The Big Bang, proposed by a Catholic Priest tells us rather than being eternal, that the universe came from nothing.  I would declare that that nothing is God (I’m not alone).  Secondly, “Creation” itself declares the glory of God.  A baby wrapping its tiny fingers around my pinkie is a huge clue to the existence of God.  Thirdly, CS Lewis examines the “moral law “and finds a higher standard in almost every group.  God’s law.  Next, there is no philosophical reason for the “order of the universe,” that water boils at the same temperature each day, or that an apple falls at the same acceleration.  God exists.  Finally, the finetuning of the universe for life.  God exists.  The personal God of the Bible exists.  What we believe matters. 


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

A NEW WAY OF SEEING


Sermon Summary (2/23/20) “A New Way of Seeing” (Matthew 5:38:48)

When I was in Connecticut, I traveled a lot.  I would drive to LaGuardia, catch the 6:00 am shuttle, then the Metro and I’d be in Washington for a 7:00 am meeting.  Spend the day in meetings and return at night.  One day when the traffic was heavy, I found myself in the middle lane and needed to get over in plenty of time to take the airport exit.  As I slid into the right lane I watched the driving in the car behind me carefully.  He wasn’t paying attention.  When he looked up and saw me he went berserk.  He thought I had cut him off.  He got along side me, then tried to get in ahead of me.  I thought he was going to run me off the road.  I feared for my life.

Now I don’t know whether there was ever donkey rage on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, but I think Jesus would have said, “Check out my stories in Matthew 5.  You need a new way of seeing.”

Here’s my question of you.  Would you feel comfortable for any reason whatsoever running somebody off the road?  Would your default position be retaliation, or would you be kind?  If the answer is you would turn the other fender, then 2000 years of teaching has made progress in transforming you.  You have become the kind of person that wouldn’t do such a thing.  When Jesus said, “Turn the other check,” he not only wanted to transform you, but through you, to transform the other guy.

When Jesus said, “Be perfect,” he was saying that over the course of time with the work of the Holy Spirit and sanctifying grace that you would become the kind of person that would turn the other cheek, give the shirt of your back, go the extra mile and through you begin the transformation of others.  God wants you to be transformed, and he wants you in the transformation business.

God is in the transforming business.  We are called to be in the business of transforming others.  When we place ourselves in grace, when we say “Yes” to grace, God moves towards his perfection.  This coming week, begins Lent.  It is a good time to decide how we might let God shape our lives in the coming 40 days.  John Wesley suggested the following means of grace: 

Gathering in worship: Commit to gather in community.
The Ministry of the Word, read or expounded.
The Supper of the Lord.
Family and prayer
The Study of Scripture: meditating.  What if you asked each of the 40 days, What would it mean for me today to go the extra mile?
Fasting or abstinence.  Making way for God.


In 1942 a book was released about the Roman soldier that supervised the crucifixion of Jesus then won his Robe in a dice game.  It first drove him mad, then in search of healing he followed the footsteps of Jesus he was healed.  The stories of Jesus transformed him and in turn many he met.  The book was The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas.  So may the stories of Jesus change us.  Amen.


Monday, February 24, 2020

WAS JESUS A PACIFIST?


Sermon Summary (2/16/20) “Was Jesus a Pacifist?”  (Matthew 5:21-24; James 2:8)

For most of my professional life, I was a soldier.  I never used my personal weapon in anger although when I flew, I had five artillery batteries, 30 howitzers, at my command and I frequently directed their fire.  My actions in combat were responsible for taking the lives of others, maybe even innocents since howitzer shells do not discriminate.

As I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into my faith, I ask myself was I wrong to have such a career?  We believed we were honorable men.  Was I right? Was Jesus a pacifist?  Is war ever just?  People of faith have been asking similar questions over the centuries and have come down on both sides.

There are always unintended consequences in war.  We only need to look at our recent past and current situation around the world where we see literally millions of people killed, wounded, maimed or displaced.

Yet, I would not consider myself a pacifist.  If there ever was a just war, WWII was it.  The greatest generation are my heroes.  Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  It would have been impossible to ignore the genocide of 10s of millions of people in Europe and China.  The greatest generation accomplished more good than we know.

Yet when I read a novel or watch a movie and hear someone say, “That person deserved to die,” it sets my teeth on edge (a biblical phrase, see Jeremiah).  I’ve often said, “You will never look into the eyes of someone that God does not love.”  I hope I’m never comfortable with the death of another.

Where do you stand on the intentionally taking of a life?  Certainly the Old Testament makes room for retaliation including the institution of capital punishment for certain offenses. 

But Jesus, God incarnate, is telling us God’s will behind the law: “You have heard it said, “Thou shalt not murder, but I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother or sister….”  Anger, insult, contempt diminish us as well as the taking of a life.  The other person is important to God.  To paraphrase John Donne, God is in the business of mankind and he wants us to be in the business of mankind.  We are diminished by another’s death.  We are diminished when we treat another with contempt.

The royal law is “love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is quoted by Jesus even more often than the commandment to love God with all our hearts.  And he sums up the Sermon on the Mount with the Golden Rule, “Therefore, do to others as you would have them to do you, for this is the law and the prophets.” 

In choosing, we need to use all of Scripture,  the Golden Rule as well as “An eye for an eye.”  We need to look at the traditions of the church.  We need to listen to the Holy Spirit.  We need to reason, using the mind that God gave us.  Life is about choices.  Almost all of our decisions effect others.  That is life.  Jesus tells us that the overriding principle we should apply is love.  What is the loving thing to do?  Love our neighbor as ourselves. 


Saturday, February 22, 2020

EXCEEDING THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE PHARISEES


Sermon Summary (2/09/20) “Exceeding the Righteousness of the Pharisees”  (Matthew 5:13-20; 7:21,24)

For the past two weeks or so, we’ve said that everyone has a god, whether God Almighty or a small g god.  Whatever is primary in our lives, whatever drives our behavior is our god.  Here’s another shocker.  Everyone is someone’s disciple.  We all mimic someone.  We pattern our lives after someone.  We adopt their values.  And it starts young.  How is it that we can make our children think, “When I grow up, I want to be like Jesus.”  How?  I’d suggest you search youtube for Patrick Mahomes and faith.  Good start.

But who do you want to be like when you grow up?  Whose disciple do you want to be?  Or, who wants you as a role model?  What do others see in you?  Do they see you “let your light so shine” that they want to give glory to God?  To do so Jesus challenges to have a righteousness that exceeds the scribes and the Pharisees.  He then tells how he is going to help us do that.

Here’s the answer.  It is all about changing our hearts, taking on the heart of Jesus, changing from the inside out.  Later, Jesus challenges Pharisees to “clean the inside of the cup so that the outside will be clean as well.” (Mt 23:25-26) 

The target of the Sermon on the Mount is to create in us a new heart such that we will “enter by the narrow gate.”  That we will “bear good fruit.”  Think about it.  You will never get apples from a tree unless it has apple sap flowing through its veins.  The motivation of the whole Sermon on the Mount is to change who we are from the inside out. 

Let me be clear.  We are not doing this to save ourselves.  Only grace can do that.  In fact, we cannot change ourselves from the inside out.  Again, only grace can do that.  When we place ourselves in the hands of grace, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, will change who we are.  When we want to be his disciple, when he becomes our role model, when we follow him, we will be changed from the inside out.  Remember, he is with us always, even to the end of the age. (Mt 28:20)

Jesus has another plan.  He intends for us to be light and salt in a world of darkness and a world without zest.  He intends for the changed us to transform the world.  His intention is for us to have “Sparkle” when we enter a room.  That’s what the Holy Spirit wants to do in you.

Remember the gift of the Spirit? (Gal 5:22-23) “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”

I love that last line.  There can never be too much love or too much kindness or how would you like a world filled with self-control?  You see what sparkle is?  How? We place ourselves in grace; we drink in the words and life of Jesus, we “ingest it, inscribe it on our hearts and minds, we fuse it to the very depths of our being.” (Karen Armstrong, Recovering the Sacred Text.)  We clean the inside of the cup.  We follow Jesus.  Amen.


Saturday, February 15, 2020

WHO ARE TRULY BLESSED?


Sermon Summary (2/02/20) “Who Are the Truly Blessed?”
 (Matthew 5:1-12; Ephesians 2:8-9)

Blesses are the meek.  We are a manly country, rugged individualists.  Remember the Marlboro man?  “The one, the proud, the Marine.”  But blessed are the meek  I’ve always had interpreting the Beatitudes.  Who are the blessed?  Actually, I think Matthew had problems, too.  Luke recalls Jesus’ saying as “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  Matthew must have had some rich friends, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of Heaven.”  I think Matthew had difficulty interpreting who was blessed.

Maybe here’s the bigger question?  Who has access to the kingdom of God?  What does it take to get into heaven?

Here’s another question.  I’ve always wondered, did Paul get it right?  Are we saved by grace through faith? (Eph 2:8)  Do you know word, “grace,” does not show up in Matthew, Mark and Luke?  Where does Jesus say we are saved by grace?  What does Jesus require of us?  Poverty?  Meekness?  Do we need to be persecuted?  Must we be in a continual state of mourning?  Here’s what Jesus says in Luke, “Woe to you that are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”  Would joy keep us from the kingdom of God?

Where is the message of grace in the Gospels?   Actually, right here in the Beatitudes.  I want you to picture the setting of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus on the mountain surrounded by his disciples,; then the whole mountainside filled with the “sat upon, spat upon, ratted upon,” to use the phase of Simon and Garfunkel.  It was show and tell time.  I can see Jesus walking through the crowd, placing his hands on the ragged, “Blessed are the poor”; on the downtrodden, “Blessed are the meek”; on the crying, “Blessed are those that mourn.” 

These people do not gain entry because of their status, but because of the grace of Jesus Christ and the great faith they are displaying by being on the mountain with him.  This is a story of grace.  There is no payment they can make to get into heaven.  There is no joy they can display.  Not even their righteousness would do.  They were devoid of religion, unable to read the scrolls if they even knew what the scrolls were.  They were “saved by grace through faith, it was not of your own doing so that no one could boast.” (Eph 2:8-9)

Jesus has just turned the worldly standard upside down.  The Beatitudes are the Gospel’s statement of grace.  Jesus is saying, “Hear the good news, there is nothing you can do save yourselves, it has already been done.”

We then need to do everything we can to protect our faith.  We need to remember our baptismal vows: “Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace?”  We need to say “Yes” continually.  We need to “Repent” continually.  Place our lives before the Holy Spirit to examine our motives, “Did I trust Christ today, or did I depend on myself as my only guide?”  We are followers of Jesus Christ.  Let our lives so demonstrate that faith.  Do everything you can to protect your faith.