Monday, September 11, 2017


Sermon Summary 9/3/17) “The Certainty of Hope” (Luke 23:44-46; 24:13-14; John 20:1-7)

When we walk away from Jesus, we walk away from hope.  We may not know it, but we walk away from hope.  But even then, Jesus comes along side us to prod us, to nudge us (prevenient grace).  The two disciples on the road to Emmaus had lost hope (“we had hoped he would be the one to save his people.” Lk24:24a)  Had hoped, they had lost hope.  Jesus came along side to nudge them.  “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he to interpreted them the things about himself in all of scriptures.” He nudged them. “Were not our hearts burning within us as he talked to us on the road?” All we need is say “Yes.

This is Luke’s story of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to his church.  The tomb was empty.  We can be certain.  He appeared to his disciples.  We can be certain.  We can be certain of the resurrection. We can be certain of our resurrection.  We can be people of hope.

Tim Keller has become on of my favorite author’s.  Sometimes known as the CS Lewis of the 21st century, he knocks down reason after reason that skeptics have for not believing.  They demand ironclad proof. He points out that there is no proof, and no proof either for their assertion that there is no God or our faith that he exists.  But what Keller provides are clues, clue after clue, dozens of clues to the existence of God.  It takes far more faith not to believe than to believe. 

Clues like the “Big Bang.” (then beginning with Moses, the creation story), the empty tomb and resurrection appearances, the immediate understanding by the disciples in the divinity of Jesus (Hymns in Colossians and Philippians, and John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”)  Something happened to make them believe!  Then most of all, the response of the disciples to build the church even in the face of death.   Folks, nobody is willing to die for what they know to be a lie.  You can be certain of the resurrection.  You can be certain in your resurrection.  You can be people of hope.  And that changes everything.

The clues are overwhelming.  It takes far more faith not to believe than to believe.  The certainty of hope gives you reason for being.  It gives you purpose, to be a follower of Jesus.  It gives you guidelines for livings, placing the interests of others above self.  Hope changes everything.

If we pick up the Easter story after Peter and John have left the garden (John 20:7), we find Mary Magdalene in the garden alone.  Mary is without hope until Jesus nudges her.  “Mary.” Can you imagine the sweetness in his voice?  She runs and tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”  Mary, like us, became a person of hope, certain about the resurrection.  Certain about her resurrection.  Hope.  That changes everything.  We can live as people of hope.  Amen.


Sermon Summary (8/27/17) “The Pain of Life” (Romans 8:28; 35; 37-39; Rev 21:1-5)

I receive a call this week from a friend.  He said that a sermon had changed his life.  Good Baptist sermon, “Everything happens for a reason.”  No!  I don’t believe that for a minute.  We do too many evil things to one another to believe that.  The sermon had been on the Raising of Lazarus.  The preacher had said that God caused the death of Lazarus so that Jesus could glorify God.  A better reading would be that Lazarus died, and Jesus took advantage of the circumstance to glorify God and to demonstrate that God’s ultimate will cannot be defeated.

My friend’s wife had passed away.  It had been evident that God had been working in his life to change him, and he concluded after hearing the sermon that his wife had died for a reason: sothat he would be changed, dramatically changed. No!  No!  It had always been God’s intention that his wife life a long and wonderful life.  But when she died, God took advantage of the circumstances to enter into my friend’s life and change him.  There is a huge difference in the reading.

Rosemary and I are very different people than before our son Jeff died.  God took advantage of the circumstance to walk beside us. 

We have been using Leslie Weatherhead’s little book, “The Will of God” in this sermon series.  He breaks God’s will down into three segments: God’s Intentional Will; God’s Circumstantial Will; and God’s Ultimate Will.

It is God’s intentional will for all of us to life good lives.  But evil exists, catastrophe's happen, disease is part of life.  God takes advantage of the circumstances to walk beside us.  He changes lives and we can see the glimpse of his mighty acts and come to understand that his ultimate will will never be defeated.  And that gives us hope!

We live in an almost, not yet perfect world.  Bad things happen.  Disease happens.  We know that.  But God’s intentional will cannot be defeated.  “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:37-39)  Nothing!

Life does involve pain.  God certainly never intended that Jesus would have to die.  It was his intention that we follow him.  But under the evil circumstances, Jesus’ sacrifice was the only answer.  Three days later, the resurrection demonstrated that God’s ultimate will cannot be thwarted.  “God causes everything to work together for good for those who love him.”  (Romans 8:28a)

Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Nothing!  Amen.


Sermon Summary (8/20/17) “The Pain of Evil” (Acts 17:24-27; Gal 2:28)

We visited a family in Ohio when I was 13; their son, Johnny was 10 or 12.  Big sis drove us to the Dairy Queen for ice cream.  There were a few black kids there who wanted ice cream, too.  Johnny screamed at them, “Get out of here Niggers.  You don’t belong here.  Go find your own place.”  As I recalled this despicable act, I remembered that his dad had come to South Dakota three or four years earlier to hunt pheasants.  He brought his hunting dogs that he’d trained on quail.  When they flushed to pheasants far out of shooting range, he beat them with a shovel.  Those poor dogs had no idea what they’d done wrong.  He beat them with a shovel.  I never saw that family again after age 13.  I don’t know what happened to Johnny.  He could have been a skin-head at Charlottesville.  He sure was given a good start.

Two of my favorite moral teachers say we need to stop and talk about racism in America.  Not make political points, “See, identity politics is wrong,” or “it proves conservatism is always racist.”  Stop!  Have the conversation we have never, ever had.

Personally, I’d like to believe it is overblown; it will go away if we ignore it.  But, but, it seems it is the human condition, the desire to be superior, to demean, to dehumanize, to hate, to act hatefully has always be with us. Folks, the church is the hope of the world.  If not us, who?  

As long as we keep our morality straight.  When Christianity moved from the Mediterranean to Northern Europe, it encountered an honor-based morality.  Everything to protect the honor of the family or the individual.  Integrated with Christianity, it sent the Crusades off to the Holy Land to protect the honor of the church.  Christianity is “Other” based.  And it must remain so.  Anytime we see morality based on self or honor, we must challenge it.  Christianity is based on the “Other.”

So the question we must ask is “Does God want us divided or as one?”  God believes in the equal and infinite worth of all human beings (Ge 9:6).  God tells us we all come from the same stock (Ge 1 and 2; Acts 17:26).  Paul tells us unequivocally, “There is no longer Greek or Jew, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 2:28)

Even the Old Testament has one whole book about breaking down barriers.  I’ll bet you thought Jonah was a fish story.  God sends Jonah to Nineveh to call them to repentance.  Jonah hates them.  After being gobbled up and spit out, he goes to Nineveh.  Much to his dismay, they repent.  He wants to die.  God tells him “Shouldn’t I be concerned about them too?”  We are called to resist evil and breakdown barriers. (Baptismal vows).  Christianity of all the world’s religions, bridges cultures.  The Church is the hope of the world!  Be the Church. Resist evil.


Sermon Summary (8/13/17) “The Problem of Pain” (Lam 3: 21-24; Matthew 27:45-46)

The Central Temple, London’s major Methodist Church was destroyed in the Blitz in 1940.  The war was up close and personal to the people of Great Britain and they sought answers, “Was this the will of God?”  A few months later, Rev. Leslie Weatherhead gave a series of sermons, “The Will of God,” which remains in publication today.

When our son, Jeff, died, now 37 years ago to day, we suffered for years.  I think 6 years later, we sat with a pastor and his wife who had just tragically lost a son.  A few days later, he mailed us a copy of the Weatherhead’s book.

We often say with best of intentions, harmful things to those grieving.  “Everything happens for a reason.’  “It was part of God’s plan.” “It must have been the will of God.”

Weatherhead hits these dead on.  A doctor valiantly strives for months to save his wife who passes away. “It must have been the will of God.” Does that mean all of his efforts were counter to the will of God?

A man loses a son over Berlin.  “I must come to grips with the inscrutable will of God.“ It may have been Hitler’s will, certainly not God’s.

A woman loses a baby and says, “It must have been the will of God,” but quickly adds “If the doctor had made it here on time, he could have saved my child.”  Does that mean if the doctor had arrived that he would have been working against God’s will?

Adam Hamilton tells of a couple would struggled to conceive.  After years they did, but with weeks the child died.  “I believed that if I was good and if I prayed, God would reward me”  The woman could not cope with this and rejected a God who would take her child.  She happened to be a Methodist pastor.

Too often we think the bible describes a Pollyanna world for those who believe.  Instead, it is a stark reality of the problem of pain (Ge 3:16-19; Ps 22; Lamentations; Job; Mt 27).  “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.”  One man may have said it best: “The biblical narrative is best described as a whole lot of things happening that God doesn’t like and God coming along behind to clean up the mess.” 

If we believe that God is coming along behind to clean up the mess, that may be the ultimate reason for hope.  We believe in eternal life, not as a consolation but the God turning the problem of pain into glory.  CS Lewis says “Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn [every] agony into glory.”  He will give us the life we always wanted.

And we get glimpse of that glory today.  The couple above adopted three little girls.  They received the life they always wanted; and the girls received a life they couldn’t have imagined.  “Therefore I have hope.”