Wednesday, June 6, 2018

REVIVING THE SECRET WORD


Sermon Summary, 6/3/18, “Reviving the Secret Word” (Micah 6:8; Col 3:12-15; Romans 9:12:9-21)

There was a time that Rosemary was not very happy with me.  I promised I’d change.  She replied, “You won’t change; people don’t change.”  She’d tell you I have changed.  What was the secret?  Secret is the operative word.  God changes us, more correctly the most definitive attribute of God, changes us, and it’s the “Secret Word.”

It is the most definitive attribute of God and the translators have kept it a secret from you.  It shows up 246 times in the Old Testament and you’ve never heard of it.  It’s right there in our Scripture, “and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  (Micah 6:8) It’s there.

It shows up in your favorite Psalm: :”Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  (Ps 23:6) It’s there.

It shows up in the words of description of many of our heroes: Job, Ruth, Esther, David and Jonathan, the nation Israel.  It’s there.

So here’s the secret word.  It is the Hebrew word, “Chesed.” (the C is silent.)  “Chesed.”  So what?  It’s Greek to me.  No, it’s Hebrew.

No, it’s not Greek. Part of the problem was that for Greek and for English translators, the Hebrew word, “Chesed” took a dozen words to describe.  It was translated as devotion or loyalty, unchanging or steadfast love, mercy or merciful, love, kindness, goodness, righteousness, favor, faithfulness.  One translator, the most literal, the NASB, even made up a word, “lovingkindness.”  “Chesed” is the secret word and it is awesome!  The most definitive attribute of God.

Paul was faced with the same problem and had to use multiple attributes to describe the Christian life: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness..patience...forgiveness...Above all, clothe yourselves in love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (from Col 3:12-15) 

In Romans 12:9-21, the instruction set for Christian living, he again lists a dozen attributes.  In Galatians 5:22, the fruit of the Spirit (note it’s singular) he lists nine to make up a single fruit.  All along the Secret Word was “Chesed.”  If only it had been Greek instead of Hebrew.

But here’s the deal.  If you examine all of what Paul calls us to do, they can all be achieved with “Kindness.”  How was I changed?  I would suggest that Rosemary allowed God’s lovingkindness to flow through her to be her kindness to me.  Kindness changed me.  And here’s the deal, when God forms us to allow His kindness to flow from us, it is not just for one, it is for all.  And kindness changes us, our families, our communities, and yes, transforms the world.  The Secret Word is “Kindness.”  Amen.


LIVIG IN GOD'S WILL


Sermon Summary, 5/20/18, “Living in God’s Will” (Col 1:0-10; Ro 12:1-2)

We’re finishing a series, “The Problem of Pain.”  Talked of God’s nature.  He is not a God who causes pain.  He heals not harms, walks through trials with us, loves us more that we are capable of.  We have a God we can trust, with those we’ve lost, with our lives.

So, what is God’s will for us?  What does a walk with Jesus look like?  A few options: A Calvinistic approach might be that God is Sovereign, there is a plan for our lives, we don’t take any steps that God has not pre-ordained.  Very Calvinistic, extremely Calvinistic.  Predestination.  But that makes God responsible for evil, too.  For the school shootings, for all the rapes and serial killings, for genocide, for all the tears and mourning.  Oh, and yes, for damnation.  We were elected before the foundations of the earth.

I can’t accept that.  Neither could John Wesley.  Wesley believed in grace, that God’s grace was available to all, we just have to accept it, to say, “yes.”  We have the free-will to accept or reject it.  We have the choices about how we live our lives.

Now there are somethings that God may not care about.  The university we attend (but he does care how we act there).  He may not care about the teams we root for even though we care a lot.  Which sock we put on first.  So, what then does God care about?  OTHERS.  God cares about our relationships with others.  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is the theme of the New Testament.  Jesus said it, James said it, Paul said it, John paraphrased it.  Relationships matter.

Others, how we treat others matters to God’s will, how we walk with Jesus, because every decision we make impacts others.  We need to consciously think of others with every decision (or non-decision) we make.  Think of times when you’ve harmed someone you care about.  Most often it is from thoughtless phrases or acts. 

In Colossians, Paul urges us to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so that we may bear fruit is every good work.  The fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) is all about relationships: We love others, extend joy to others, are kind to others, are patient with others, are generous with others, gentle with others, extend peace to others, deal with others with self-control. 

When we walk with Jesus it is like co-authoring our life with him.  Beginning with a blank journal and fill with the knowledge of his will, co-writing our life’s story with him.  We discern his will with him.  We act based on our understanding of his will.  We witness to his will in all that we do.  In so doing, he turns our mourning into dancing, he removes our mourning garments and clothes us with gladness! 


GOD'S WILL AND THE PROBLEM OF PAIN


Sermon Summary, 5/20/18, “God’s Will and the Problem of Pain” (Acts 2:1-12; Mt 7:13-14)

How often do you hear this from someone well meaning at an untimely death, the loss of a child, the loss of a spouse, “It must have been the will of God”?  How could you accept a God like that?  Not my God.  My God heals rather than harms, brings peace rather than pain, stills the storms rather than throwing me to the waves.  My God loves me, even more than I know.  It is the will of my God that we will walk with him and him with me through the storm, the suffering and pain.

But if the losses we experience are not the will of God, what then is the will of God?  How do we find it?  How do we discern it?

My friend Ken posted this on facebook.  Ken and Stephanie can relate to this having to raise a severely handicapped child.  In the midst of life’s twists and turns, Stephanie heard a call and become an ordained minister, not part of Ken’s plan either. 

The secular world will tell you that life is the journey and not the destination.  I would argue it is both the destination and the journey.  The destination gives purpose.  The journey gives meaning.  With our destination as God, we invite Jesus in the person of the Holy Spirit to walk with us and we find meaning in the will of God.

We enter life through the narrow gate when we choose to follow Jesus, we journey in his will when we walk in his ways.

The disciples experienced changed lives of meaning at Pentecost through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit used the Resurrection Event to dramatically change all their lives and in so doing gave birth to the Church of Jesus Christ.  In a way, one could say that the Church is proof of the Resurrection.  The Church simply wouldn’t exist today without that foundation.  And it was built by the experience the disciples, Peter, John, Paul, others had with the Holy Spirit.  The Church and the Spirit are the reason that Pentecost is such a big deal.  The disciples walked in will of God and lived lives of meaning and purpose.

We need not be theologians to walk in the will of God.  We are followers of Jesus.  We simply need to ask in everything thing we do, what would Jesus guide us to do?  How would he ask us to love God and neighbor?  It is Jesus that is the center of all things.  The Father has sent us the Spirit of Christ to teach us all things.  We simply need to walk with him.  More next week.  Amen.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

GOD AND PAIN


Sermon Summary, 5/6/18, “God and Pain” (John 10:10; Heb 2:14; I Cor 15 selected)

I thought I knew about the problem of pain.  I’ve preached on it.  I’ve watched others go through it.  Yet, I know that I didn’t appreciate their pain.  And I know, too, that many do not have an understanding of God and pain.  One relative, church goer all their life, said, “I don’t know why God made Rosemary suffer so.  I just don’t understand. Why would God do that?”  I’ve concluded that to begin talking about the problem of pain, we first need to talk of the nature of God.  We can’t talk about pain without first talking about God.

The loss of Rosemary of me was so terrible, I had to rethink everything.  Does God exist?  If he exists, is he a good God, the God of the New Testament revealed in Jesus Christ?  Does he care?  Did he care about Rosemary?   As we talked a few weeks ago, doubts may be the indication that God is already at work in you even before you know it.  Working through doubts can strengthen your faith, not diminish it..  We come out the other side stronger.  I did.

God exists.  It takes far more faith to NOT to believe than to believe.  The clues from the Big Bang to the accommodation of the universe to complex life, to the reliability of the world we live in, to beauty, to dozens of other clues give far, far more reason to believe that not believe. (The sermon included a much fuller discussion of clues.  Sometimes you just have to be there.)

God exists, but you knew that.  But what I want you to know, to believe, to internalize, to make part of you, is that God is the God of the New Testament who came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ, as Paul said, “I teach Christ and him crucified.”  “Him crucified”—the God of sacrificial love who showed us that there were no limits to how far he would go to demonstrate his love for us. 

Jesus lived and lives.  Historians outside the bible wrote about him.  People who lived with him wrote about him in detail.  Historians  who interviewed eye-witnesses wrote about him.  And we know the resurrection is real.  Not from what the Bible says (the early Christians didn’t even have a Bible and they knew it!), but by the changed lives of the eye-witnesses.  Nobody dies for what they know to be a lie. 

So if not only God exists, but the Jesus of the New Testament is real, would the Jesus who healed the sick cause illness?  Would the Jesus who stilled the storm cause Tsunamis?  Would the Jesus who overcame death cause death?  The answer is NO!  Jesus tells us, “The thief came to steal and kill and destroy; I came that you have life and it abundantly.”  Eternal life, abundant life.  Hebrews 2:14 is more specific, “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”  And 1 Cor 15 says “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  If death is the enemy, then certainly God would not be the cause of death.

In 1971, while undergoing an operation, Rosemary had an out of body experience.  From that point she told me that she loved life and would always want to live, but that with her faith, she would never again fear death.  We teach Christ and him crucified, who loves us unconditionally and sacrificially.  The God of love, not pain.  Amen.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

EASTER 2018 WITNESSES: MARY MAGDALENE


Easter Sermon Summary, 4/1/18, “”Witnesses: Mary Magdalene, The First Christian” (John 3:16; 21:1-18)

(I recommend reading the passages from John before this summary.) I’m sure you wonder why I’m here.  I’m here because we are Easter people.  Rosemary is an Easter person.  Is, not was.  My Step-Mom is an Easter person.  Is, not was.  “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph or His foes.  He arose a victor from the dark domain; and He lives forever with his saints to reign.”  Saints, little “s.”  Rosemary is a saint.  Marian is a saint. “With His saints.”  I believe the Easter message.  Not because I want it to be true, but because I know it to be true.

When Mary Magdalene came to the garden she had no idea what to expect, least of all the resurrection.  None of them did.  If they had, they would have been camped out at the tomb with noisemakers and horns awaiting the event.  Read the passage again.  Mary didn’t.  Peter didn’t.  John didn’t (it says John believed but I don’t know what.  The next line shows he didn’t expect the resurrection.)  All the disciples waiting in hiding didn’t.  Jesus had told them “On the third day be raised.”  But they doubted.

Doubting can be good.  It causes us to wrestle with what we believe.  Doubt can be God working within us even before we know it to strengthen our faith. 

There are strong reasons to believe in the resurrection.  God raised Jesus from the dead to show that Jesus was who he said he was, the Son of God.  Jesus’ words, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” would have been idle words without the resurrection.  The resurrection is the event that launched Christianity.

God raised Jesus to show that he had overcome death.  “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  He raised Him to show us that Jesus is worthy to be our Savior.  “He is the firstborn of the dead so that he has supremacy over everything.”  He is Lord.

God raised him from the dead to show us that for all of us, there is life after death. There is eternal life.  “shall not perish, but have eternal life.

If all these things are true, it changes everything!  Jesus is God.  Jesus has overcome death.  We have the promise of eternal life.  We reign as saints with him in glory.  It changes everything.  We are people of hope.

Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb without hope and returns saying, “I have seen the Lord!”  Resurrection Joy!

All of the witnesses.  All of the apostles lived with joy.  And as witnesses to the resurrection, they died with joy.  And folks, nobody dies for what they know to be a lie.  Nobody dies for a lie.  And here’s the great news folks, the resurrection means that Jesus will work backwards to turn all the agony into glory.  He will give us the life we always wanted, free from sorrow, free from pain, filled with glory.  Amen.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

WHAT DOES LOVE REQUIRE OF US?


Sermon Summary, 3/4/18, “”What Does Love Require of Us?” (Mt 25:31; Gal 5:6)

We’re closing out the “Brand New” series, today, “Brand New Love.”  The premise of the entire series is that the arrival of Jesus signaled the end of the Temple Model (ancient religious practices) and ushered in something “Brand New.”  A Brand New Covenant in his sacrifice; a New Command (Love one another); a New Ethic (which begs the question “What does love require of us?”); and a New Movement of the Body of Christ.  Unfortunately, we have reestablished much of the old and just sprinkled a little Jesus on top (See previous sermon summaries). 

One of the key aspects of the old is that the Temple Model is “Me-Centered.”  Me, about me.  We looked previously as Sacred Places and used St. Peter’s Basilica as an example.  Marvelous place.  But did you know it was commissioned because Pope Julius II wanted a burial place?  Me-Centered.  And we have made Sacred Texts about “Me,” interpreted by Sacred Men, controlled by Sacred Men; and the Reformation weaponized Sacred Texts to be used against one another.  Again, all about “Me.”

Jesus changed all that.  He signaled an end to the “Me” model.  It is no longer about “you,” but about the “you beside you.”  The “You beside You!”  It is based on a new command: “Love one another.” (John 13:34)  And it begs the question, “What does love require of us?” 

Interesting to me the way Jesus presented the “Great Commandment.”  (Mt 22:34-40)  He was asked, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?”  Jesus answered with the verses that every Jew prayed twice daily. (Deut 6:4-5)  Can’t you see their heads nodding in agreement?  Jesus creates authority with his answer.  Then and only then does he say, “The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Do you suppose he wanted to say the greatest commandment is all about the “You beside you” all along?  Could very well be.

We find “Loving your neighbor” throughout the NT.  James calls it the “Royal Law.” I like the way Paul puts it best of all: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal 5:6)

“What does love require of you?”  First, love is not a feeling.  Love is something we do.  I’ve come to make a Lenten Tradition of re-reading the classic, In His Steps, written is 1896 with 30 million sold around the world.  It is the source of the question, “What would Jesus do?”  Maybe that’s 19th Century language.  Maybe in the 21st Century, in everything we think, say, and do, we ask the question, “What does love require of us?”  If we do, it will change us.  It will change our families.  It will change our communities.  It will change the world.   Proactively, ask the question in everything we think say or do, “What does love require of me?’  You will become ‘Brand New.”  Amen.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

NEW WINE SKINS


Sermon Summary, 2/4/18, “New Wine Skins” (Mk 2:22; Jn 13 selected)

22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins. (Mark 2:22)

In Earnest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (a biblical title), the lost generation travels from Paris to Spain to see the running of the bulls and there celebrates the week passing wine skins among themselves squirting wine into one another’s mouths.

Not the wine skins Jesus was talking about.  In Jesus’ time, skins were used to ferment the wine.  Pressed in a vat, maybe a little yeast added, the new wine was poured into fresh skins pouches and sealed.  The new skins expanded as the wine gave off gases as part of the fermentation process.  But if old, used skins were used, they would burst instead of expanding and both the new wine and the old skin would be lost.

Jesus came not just to give us wine, but Brand New Wine which could never be placed in the old skins of the ancient religion.  Jesus gave us something brand new based on a New Covenant in his sacrifice, a New Command to love one another, a New Ethic, and created a New Movement.

How are we doing with Jesus’ Brand New thing?  Unfortunately, we have reverted to the old form, sprinkling a little Jesus on top.  We are all about Sacred Places instead of sacred people.  We hold fast to sacred texts and use them against one another, interpreting and guarding them by sacred men (almost always men), and use them to control special people instead of freeing them with the gift of salvation.

We say, “How far can I go without sinning?” (Old thinking)  We say, “I feel guiltier about missing church than how I might have treated someone.”  (Old thinking)  We say when we fail morally (and we all fail morally), “I am more concerned about what God will do than what I might have done to another.” (Old thinking)

Andy Stanley imagines heaven as a great balcony with Jesus, Paul and Peter watching from heaven, Jesus saying, “Can you believe what’s going on down there?  Love has been lost.  And you know, on the night before I died I showed them what love looked like.  I got down on my hands and knees and washed their feet, their stinking feet!  Then I made it simple for them, I told them “to love one another.””

Paul said, “I told them too; I even wrote it down.  I said, “The only thing that counts in faith expressing itself in love.”” (Gal 5:6b)  Peter said, “I wrote it down, too; “Love one another deeply from the heart.”” (1 Ptr 1:22b)

We all agree, we don’t want love lost.  We don’t want to put the new wine into old skins and lose both.  We need to understand “What does love require of us?”  That waits until Next time.