Saturday, July 20, 2019

PETER: THE CALL


Sermon Summary (7/7/19) “Peter: The Call” (Luke 5:1-11)

We are embarking on a new sermon series: Peter, flawed, impetuous, passionate, imperfect Peter. He wants to believe but denies Jesus.  He wants to be a faithful follower but loses faith.  He wants to be a leader and runs away.  Peter is a lot like us.  We will learn much about ourselves as we study this great disciple. 

How do we know about the flaws of Peter?  Normally, we would never write such things about our heroes, yet it’s there in the text.  More than likely, Peter told the stories about himself. 

Today’s story is about the call of Peter.  All the gospels tell the story with John’s a little different.  But it is in John that Jesus says, “You are Simon.  You are to be called Cephas (which is translated Peter.)” (John 1:42)  So Peter is called Simon, what his Mom named him; Cephas (Aramaic for Peter) and Peter (Greek).  Cephas and Peter mean Rock.  Not only was it a term of affection, but of expectation.  Later Jesus would say, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” (Mt 16:18)

According to Luke, Jesus begins his ministry in his hometown Synagogue where he is rejected.  He moves to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee where he is widely acclaimed because he spoke as one with authority.  He then casts out demons, heals the sick, including Peter’s mother in law, then proclaims the good news throughout the cities.

Then one day he comes to the seashore where Peter and Andrew are cleaning their nets after fishing all night.  He steps into Peter’s boat, teaches the crowd, then tells Peter to push into deeper water and let down his nets.  ““Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”  Now, you would think a hero would have no hesitation about obeying Jesus.  You can almost hear him say, “What does this carpenter from a landlocked village like Nazareth know about fishing?”  Finally he relents.

And when they did so, they caught so many fish that they began to break their nets and filled another boat to hold all the fish.  Peter falls at Jesus’ feet saying, ““Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  reminiscent of Isaiah’s vision of God on the throne, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man with unclean lips living among a people with unclean lips ;yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”  (Isaiah 6:5)  “Jesus tells them, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”  When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” So may Jesus be our priority. Amen.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

JUST FRUIT


Sermon Summary (6/30/19) “Just Fruit” (Gal 5:13-25)

In 1890, Eugene Scheffelen released a hundred Starlings in Central Park just because they were mentioned in a Shakespeare play.  Did he know that a hundred years later that I’d have a dead Starling in my ceiling or that there would be a 100 million aggressive Starlings in America?  Certainly not.  Just one the nearly infinite unintended consequences that result from what we do.  The worst, of course, are those that affect our friends, our loved ones, our relationships. 

The pinnacle of Jesus’ teaching was relationships: The Royal Law, the Golden Rule, just about every teaching in the Sermon on the Mount involves enhancing our relationships,  Since just about every thing we do has consequences, how do we avoid that unintended harm that we see in our society daily?

Our passage for today is from Galatians, sometimes called the Magna Carta (the Declaration of Independence) of the Bible, freeing us from the law.  “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters.” (Gal 5:13)  He adds, “only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but become slaves to one another.” 

If your highest calling is to serve one another, you are less likely to harm one another.  Paul goes on to say, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command; “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Gal 5:14) 

“Live by the Spirit.”  Living by the Spirit is cooperating with grace, accepting the suggestions of grace in our actions.  Living by the flesh is cooperating with the powers and principalities, the cosmic forces of darkness that permeate our world.  “If we are live by he Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Gal 5:25)

But here’s the deal, “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. “  Hear this, “against such there is no law!”  The fruit are the results of our choices that come from cooperating with the Spirit and there is no limit!  We can love as much as we want!  We can spread as much joy as we want!  We can be as kind as we can be!  We can exercise as much self-control as possible!  With such there are no unintended consequences!  Our relationships are enhanced by the fruit of the Spirit.

Here’s the thing.  God knows its hard to be loving, to be kind.  That’s why he has given us the Spirit.  “Walk by the Spirit.”  Your relationships will be better for it.  Amen.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

PROCLAIMING JESUS


Sermon Summary (6/23/19) “Proclaiming Jesus” (Luke 8:28-38)

In 1988, I attended a retreat, several impactful moments, one in which the leader read the story from Mark about Blind Bartimaeus, Jesus asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”  We then retired to our rooms, writing the question at the top of a paper, rested 30 minutes, answered the question and then immediately turned over the paper, writing down Jesus’ reply.  I was amazed, amazed at what Jesus had already done for me or would do simply for the asking!

We don’t spend enough time reflecting on what Jesus has done for us.  And, we certainly don’t make the effort to tell others what he has done for us.  In our Scripture from Luke, Jesus casts the legion of demons from the Gerasene, then tells him 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

That’s the way the word was spread in the first century, one on one, or to a small group, “this is what Jesus has done for me.”  If you recall the story of the woman at the well in John 4, she says, “Come and see and man that knows everything about me.”  Jesus had restored her self-worth.  “Come and see.” 

The circumstances today, in this post Christian world are not much difference.  The word, if it is ever going to be told, will be by us telling others what Jesus has done for us.  What is your story?  What has Jesus done for you?  Who needs to hear it?  Rosemary would have told you that God gave her hope.  She could not understand how a person could go on without Jesus.  We all have a story and others need to hear our story.

We live in a broken world and Jesus is the answer.  Jesus is the answer to the deepest longings of the human heart.  Who needs to hear it?  Maybe you know someone down and out, who has lost hope or lost a job or lost a crop.  Maybe you simply need to say, “I go to church.  Church is important to me.  Church makes a difference in my life.  Jesus makes a difference in my life.  Won’t you join me this Sunday?” 

We are called to tell the nations.  It is not the bishops who will tell, or the preachers that will get them to church.  It is the people whose lives have been changed by Jesus.  Who needs to hear you say, “Come and see”?  Amen.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

THE LAST BATTLE


Sermon Summary (6/16/19) “The Last Battle” (Rev 19-22)

We’re wrapping up our series on belief and hope.  Not only belief in God, but belief in a God who loves us and wants a relationship with us.  Hope, that in the midst of evil and a broken world that we have a future in the arms of God.  That’s why we are finishing this series in the book of Revelation.  It is the ultimate book of hope. 

Admittedly, it is a strange book with beasts and symbols, the Dragon, Satan, the Beast, the Roman Empire; with numbers like 666 and 7 and 12 and 144,000 that we’ve heard whether we go to church or not; code like Babylon means Rome and “Ancient of Days” from the Old Testament; and end times, “A new heaven and a new earth.” 

Most of all, it is all about hope: “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.  For the first things have passed away.”

We too often miss hope because we make the interpretation of Revelation far too complicated.  For example, the theology behind Tim Lehay’s “Left Behind” Series makes great story, yet it only came into being in 1830.  For 18 centuries, the church did not consider it.  The word “rapture” does not exist in Revelation or anywhere in the Bible.  While we are debating tribulation, we miss hope.

What we find is that in chapter 18 Babylon (Rome) falls (you may also note that Revelation is not in chronological order which also confuses the theology from time to time), then in Chapter 19 we return to rejoicing in heaven; and then the rider on the white horse (Christ) appears to vanquish his enemies.  He appears in a robe dipped in blood.  Unlike other conquerors, the blood is not of his enemies, but of his own.  He has won the battle with his own sacrifice.  And he destroys his enemies not with the edge of his sword, but with the two edged sword from his mouth, the Word of God!  (The think it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “We destroy our enemies by making them our friends.”)  Jesus has won the battle with his sacrifice and destroyed his enemies with the Word of God.  Jesus wins with love!

In a recent sermon, I heard the preacher say that Christianity offers two things that no of the religion does: “Salvation by grace through faith”; and “a personal relationship with God.”  Jesus has won the battle for us, and Revelation tells us that “The home of God will be among mortals, he will dwell with us, we will be his people and he will be our God.”  Hope: As CS Lewis has told us, we have only lived the title and the chapter page.  The when we die we will begin chapter one of the Great Story which no one has ever read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.  Hope!  Amen..


HEAVENLY HOPE


Sermon Summary (6/2/19) “Heavenly Hope” (Rev 13:1-8;16-18)

We need stories to give us hope.  The original “Star Wars” was subtitled “A New Hope.”  We may not be physically threatened living around Fulton, but there are times in everyone’s life when we need stories of hope. 

Certainly it was true of the children of Israel and the early Christians with the exile to Babylon, the Greek and Roman oppressions, Nero’s invasion of Judea, killing a million Jews, enslaving a hundred thousand, and destroying the Temple.  Then persecuting the Christians throughout the Roman Empire.  Stories of hope were needed.

At the end of the first century, the vision of the Heavenly Christ to John that we know as “The Revelation” was such a story of hope.  We miss the message of hope if you misinterpret the text.  For most mainline theologians, It is mainly a story written to the people of John’s time in an apocalyptic genre with only the last four chapters as futuristic. 

Chapter 13’s Dragon and beast were Satan and his disciple, the Roman Empire centered in Rome, code name “Babylon,” the previous city that destroyed the Temple.  The mark of the beast, 666, the number of a person, using Hebrew letters as numbers points to Nero. 

Revelation’s middle chapters alternate between heaven where God rules, and earth where Satan, the Dragon and the beast reigned.  The vision presents us with choices, to choose heaven where choirs sang or earth where people wailed.  The Kingdom of God, place or joy; or the empire, a place of pain.  Heaven, a place of hope, or the empire, a place of despair.  The story is calling us to choose hope!

We all need a story of hope.  Everyone has a story and we need to shape it to be a story of hope.  Part of my story is that “The worst thing is never the last thing and Easter changes everything.”  God is real.  It takes far more faith not to believe than to believe.  And if God is real, it makes sense that He would want to reconcile his creation to himself, and it makes sense that he would do so by becoming like us and do so with the greatest act of love one can for another, and that is to give his life for me.  And then demonstrate his glory through Easter.  And if God would do that, then I can believe the promises that he has made through his Son Jesus Christ.

I can believe “because I live, you will live also”; “that I go to prepare a place for you.. And I will come again to take you to where I am.”  We will be in the arms of Jesus.  We will see our loved ones again.  Just as Revelation is a story of hope, so is our Christ-Centered story.


Saturday, June 15, 2019

LETTERS OF HOPE


Sermon Summary (5/2619) “Letters of Hope” (Rev 1-3 (selected))

I first heard about Revelation in Mrs. Nashel’s Sunday School class.  My Sunday School teachers were not purveyors of hope.  Anything fun was sin and needed to be punished.  The punishment was right there in Revelation: huge hail stones, vicious scorpion stings.  As an 8 year old, I had too much baseball yet to play, too much fun to have.

Good news.  I’ve come to understand the Book of Revelation to be a book of hope. 

Many times misinterpreted, we look at the details and miss the big picture.  It would be if we read Ezekiel’s dry bones by examining each bone instead of seeing it as God reconnecting and breathing new life into his children following their exile, we would miss the point  It didn’t mean bone, ie it didn’t mean what it says, it means what it means.  That’s the way we need to view the Heavenly Christ in Revelation 1 and the other visions in later chapters.  We need to be looking for the picture rather than the words.

The message of the heavenly Christ is to the seven churches of Asia, seven a biblical number of completeness, all the churches.  And as we will see, messages for us too. 

The first letter is to Ephesus.  “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  Have we lost our passion, our enthusiasm for our faith, especially as we have gotten bogged down by the culture that surround us?  Christ calls us to repent, and to do the works we did at first. 

He does commend them for resisting the Nicolaitans.  We can surmise that the Nicolaitans recommended compromise with the culture.  A little temple worship, a little Christianity, a little placating the Emperor, and all would be well.  In what ways might we have compromised with the culture?

The last letter is to Laodicea, a rich community that had rebuilt themselves following an earthquake, so rich that it refused outside help.  They could fend for themselves.  15 “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

Wow!  Pride. “I can do it myself.”  Again, he calls them to repentance, then extends the hand of hope to all the churches and to us.  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If any hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to them and dine with them and they with me.” 

So may we hear and open the door.   Amen.


Saturday, May 25, 2019

PETER'S RESTORATION OF HOPE


Sermon Summary (5/19/19) “Peter’s Restoration” (John 21:1-19)

We’re continuing our Belief and Hope series.  Today Peter.  Peter who had denied Jesus three times, who wept bitterly in shame when so doing; Peter who believed he was not worthy, and who had decided to return to his old ways as a fisherman.  Peter who had lost hope.  Jesus meets him where he finds him and restores him and commissions him to become one of the great leaders of the church

Peter was in a dark place.  It happens.  It happened to John of the Cross in the 16th Century, to M. Teresa in the last.  We become disconnected from God.  Our relationship severed.  We become like Peter.  We say, “I’m going fishing.”

That’s the human condition.  That’s the story of the Old Testament.  That’s the remedy of the New Testament.  Jesus calls us back.  It is a story for us.

Remember, Peter has best intentions, “Even though I must die with you, I will never deny you.”  But Jesus knows us. “Before the cock crows, you will deny my three times.”

At some point, Peter leaves Jerusalem.  There are seven disciples at the Sea of Galilee some weeks after Easter.  Peter says, “I am going fishing.”  Essentially, I am returning to my old life.  Jesus may never show up again!  They catch nothing.  Their life will be empty.  But, but, Jesus is on the seashore.  “Put your nets down on the right side of the boat.”  There nets are filled, 153 kinds of fish (maybe the known number of species) and their nets do not tear (maybe their commission that all the world is their parish and that not one nation will be lost). 

John says (getting one step ahead of Peter), “It is the Lord.”  Peter, who was bare chested, puts on his clothes and jumps in the water to see Jesus.  “Oh, if he would just forgive me!”  After breakfast, Jesus, three times, asks “Peter, do you love me?”  Three times, Peter responds, “Yes Lord, you know I love you.”  Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” 

This is a story of the restoration of hope and of commissioning.  For us.  Like John, we need to connect with Jesus, “It is the Lord.”  Two, we need to put Jesus in charge of our daily activities, “Put your nets down on the right side of the boat.”  Three, we need to dine with him, “Come and have breakfast.”  Four, we need to listen to him, “Feed my sheep.”  And lastly, we need to respond, “Follow me.”  If the greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself,” we ought to love someone in the name of Christ each and every day.  “Feed my sheep.”

It begins with our belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  It continues with our renewal of hope: That the worst thing is never the last thing, and that Easter changes everything. It is reinforced with our understanding that Jesus “has the words to eternal life.” (John 6:68-69)  So may it be with all of us.  Amen.