Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Sermon Summary from Nov 20, “Mysterious Will of God Part II” (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 11:28-30)
So what am I going to be when I grow up? As a boy in South Dakota going to Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies, “cowboy” sounded good. I went to engineering school because all my relatives did. Then there was in the Army. Especially when I was in Vietnam, my Mom would say she didn’t raise me to be a soldier, she raised me to be a doctor. She didn’t tell me!
When I was 18, I came home from college and told my Dad I was going to be a preacher. He talked me out of that, fast. (He told Rosemary many times that he thought he’d probably go to Hell for that.) But my favorite aunt knew that I’d have been a terrible pastor had I entered ministry then. She knew it was the will of God that I needed to grow up!
We have a lot of problem figuring out what to do before noon each day let alone our purpose for a lifetime. Last week we talked about why bad things happen to good people. This week about how we live within the will of God. I’m relying on Adam Hamilton’s book, Why? Making Sense of God’s Will.
Hamilton uses the metaphor of a novel. Suppose God’s plan was the completed book and we were to walk through the story for good or for bad? Some believe that, but that takes away free will and makes God, who we claim to be good, responsible for all the harm, disease and mayhem in the world. A second option is that maybe life is like a Table of Contents and we write the pages in between with God stepping in and writing new chapter headings when our free will leads us astray. But because of human interaction all of us would soon be on “Plan B.” Doesn’t seem like a plan at all. Finally, maybe our book looks more like a journal, a blank page, and we and God write our story together, we are co-authors.
God is the great collaborator, the best co-author we can imagine giving us the writing tools and rejoicing in paragraphs we write. We can improve our writing skills by reading great writing. The greatest writings teach us great moral truths and tell background stories we can weave into our writing. Second, we need great mentors. Great writers gather great people around them. John Wesley would call this “Christian Conferencing.” Then we have been given our intellect, reason with which to choose the twists and turns to the plot of our story. Finally, we have been given the Holy Spirit to be our guide and to give us the Power to live out our storyline. And as we write our journal each day, we need to be asking our co-author, “What is the very best story we can together write for today?” and “What is the most loving thing we can do?”
But even then, in the midst of writing our Romance Novel, because of the actions of others or just because of the way the world is, we find ourselves living a Horror Story. We find ourselves in darkness unable to see our way. It’s at that point that we need God to remind us that the chapter we are now walking through is never, never the last chapter! We need to ask once again, “What is the very best story we can together write for as far as I can see?”
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Sermon Summary (11/13/16), “The Will of God” Mt 22:15-22
When we lost our son, Jeff, friends called, letters poured in many saying things like, “God always takes the best first.” Oh, we wish he hadn’t been so good. Or, “Everything happens for a reason.” I can’t imagine what possible reason that could be! Or, “It must have been the will of God.” Well, I don’t want anything to do with a God like that. I don’t believe that was the will of God.
I ran into a friend Terry three weeks ago. He said it had been the worst year of his life! He had lost a son. He had been flat on his back for five months. Now his wife had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Friends, that can’t be the will of God.
We struggle when bad things happen to good people and they do. It happened to Rev. Leslie Weatherhead, pastor of a London Church in WWII. How could his congregation deal with the evil that was surrounding them? He delivered a series of four sermons that put in a small book, The Will of God,” that has sold over 1 million copies.
Weatherhead believes that God’s intention for us, his “Intentional Will,” is for good. But God has delegated us to have authority, dominion (Gen 1:28), we have choices, we choose to harm one another, to harm the world we live in. Under those circumstances God acts. He had no intention that Christ go to the cross, but under the circumstances it was the only way he could reconcile the world to himself, “God’s Circumstantial Will.” Ultimately God cannot be thwarted and “God’s Ultimate Will” will prevail (Rev 21-22).
First, let me say that we are people of hope and I believe in miracles. Miracles range from protection, to timing, to the seemingly cessation of physical laws of the universe. Not often, but they happen. But the greatest miracle of all is that God will walk with us through the storm.
God doesn’t cause the storm, but God will walk with us, sustain us, and he will force good out of our circumstance. Our circumstance was that we were lost, now we are within God’s arms. The greatest realization of my faith is that God loved me so much that he would do for me the greatest act of love of all, to give up his life for me.
God walks with us. God forces good out of evil. We are a different family because God walked with us, because he forced good out of evil. Because of God’s Circumstantial Will, we are people of Hope. “All things work together for good for those who love him.” Ro 8:28
Friday, November 4, 2016
Sermon Summary (10/30/16), “Kid’s Stories for Big People” Luke 19:1-10 (Zacchaeus)
I always thought of Zacchaeus as a kid’s story. Kid’s can equate to a wee little man. Kid’s like to climb trees. We had big Cottonwood trees in South Dakota. I loved to climb trees. I’m not sure about Sycamore trees. We didn’t have any of those. And of course kids love to sing the song, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man…” Kids love this story.
The problem is, if we adults think of it as a kids story, we miss the part for big people. When we grow up, we don’t give it a second view. We miss it. Jericho was Jesus’ last stop before going up to Jerusalem to give his life for us. There must be something important going on here.
To make my point, we are going to start with the last verse first: “For the Son of Man cam to seek and to save the lost.” That is the summation of Jesus’ entire reason for being, his entire purpose. This story is important.
Now, Zacchaeus was lost, there was no doubt about that. He was a despised tax collector, a man who was a tool of the hated imperial oppressor, Rome, but also a man who defrauded or extorted excessive taxes from his fellow Jews. Despised. Yet Jesus said, “I must stay at your house today.” “I must”! Jesus had a divine appointment with Zacchaeus. Just like the Woman at the Well in John 4 at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with whom he had a divine appointment, Jesus ends his ministry with a divine appointment with another social outcast. These people, this man and woman are us. This story is for big people.
Zacchaeus responds to Jesus, “Lord, half my goods I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone...I restore four-fold.” Jesus didn’t tell him he needed to do that. It was a response to grace.
This is a story of grace, the story of grace in our lives. Without even us knowing it, grace prods us to respond to Jesus, Prodding Grace.. We find ourselves climbing the tree without even knowing why. When we do, Jesus saves us with his grace, Saving Grace. Then grace nurtures us, we find ourselves changing and we don’t even know why, Nurturing Grace. Theologians call these Prevenient, Justifying and Sanctifying Grace. But they prod us, save us, and nurture us. Grace.
Another reason we miss this story is that we miss the context. In the scene before Jericho, Jesus has just told his disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into the kingdom.” Then he makes a divine appointment with a rich man. “Nothing is impossible for God.” That’s grace, Saving Grace.
Sermon Summary (10/16/16), “Model Image” Mt 22:15-22
Okay, so who’s happy with the way the election is going? During the debate, my granddaughter tweeted, “This election is despicable!” It’s only getting more so. I think what it is teaching us is that we need heroes, larger than life heroes, people we can look up to, people who are role models.
Politicians like Teddy Roosevelt, larger than life, whose father taught him to view the world through the framework of right and wrong and to always act on the side of right. We need that. We need newsmen we can trust. We need sport heroes that we’d allow to date our daughters. Of course we may have heroes next door, teachers we’d enshrine on Mt Rushmore, neo-natal nurses we’d put on a pedestal, or in the area of religion, a Mel West (I’ve always wanted to be like Mel West when I grew up). We need heroes, someone to guide us, someone who we would like to become.
Maybe there are stories we can take from the story of Jesus. Politically we can view the groups of the day as political parties: The Pharisees as the “Traditional Party,” the Herodians as the “Fascists,” Jesus as the “Reformed Party.” Anyway, the Pharisees and the Herodians (who wanted to protect the Herod’s positions with Rome) did not want Jesus upsetting their political power. Jesus who was popular with the people had to be discredited .
Aha, the perfect question. “Teacher, is it right to pay taxes or not?”Gotcha! If he says “no,” the Roman guards will drag him away. “Yes,” and the crowds will walk away. He says, of the coin used to pay taxes, “whose image and inscription is this?” They say, “Caesar’s.” Now, you know the answer even if you’ve never been to church, don’t you? Jesus says, “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are Gods.” They were amazed at his answer.
It is we that are that are made in the image of God. We give back what is rightfully God’s by living our lives in a manner pleasing to him. But we need role models, mentors, exemplars to learn to lead those lives. Maybe in this complex world, we need a composite of several who can model the lives we are to lead. We need heroes.
I heard this week a story of parents who chose six young women to be a mentor for a day for their 8th grade daughter. Six who would allow her to shadow them just one day, then to convey a life-lesson that they would have liked to be taught. The first was a maternity nurse. Can you imagine that day walking the ward, being put to work? The day closed with the young nurse teaching a class to unwed mothers, and a life-lesson about sexual purity. Wow! We need heroes. And we need a few on the ballot.