Sunday Sermons by Pastor Chuck Williams
September 1, 2019
Note: A guest speaker was at Grace UMC and so there is no manuscript. Below is the message given by Pastor Chuck at Albert Paine United Methodist Church in Painesdale, MI. Bulletins from both churches have been included.
The Lectionary Bible readings today teach a very distinct dichotomy between inappropriate pride and properly understood godly humility, and the results of each working in our hearts.
Jeremiah describes a pride that pulled people away from God to rely on priorities, strategies and systems that are broken. (Jeremiah 2:10c-13). The Psalmist on the other hand, though surrounded by such people, continues to proclaim his faithfulness and asks God to deliver him from such dangerous temptations and keep him humble… (Psalm 25:8-10, 40:9-13)
In Hebrews, this humility leads to loving hospitality and avoiding relying on greed and status seeking and being content with God’s help and presence and willingness to help others. (Hebrews 13:1-2, 5-6, 15-16)
Then in our primary reading for the day, Jesus takes advantage of observing a pride-filled situation to explain his take on the need for humility.
Bible Reading Luke 7:1,7-14
MESSAGE “Honored Guests, Honored Hosts” Normal Jewish custom at this time was that there were two meals a day, one prior to noon which they called breakfast, and the principal meal that was eaten during the later afternoon hours which they called lunch or dinner. The exception was on the Sabbath, when the day prior they prepared for three meals, and the principle meal was after the morning religious services that concluded around noon.
At this special meal it was common to invite guests. Jesus is invited to the meal of a religious leader, along with some of the host’s Jewish leader friends, and they were watching him closely. This was not because they were star struck over this upstart highly popular rabbi. They were looking for him to do something wrong over which they could then complain and discredit him. He didn’t let them down.
Either by arrangement or coincidence someone with a disease was in the house when Jesus arrived. Jesus healed him, arguing that (even) based of Jewish law and tradition, the Sabbath was designed for humanity’s good, and therefore deeds of mercy (even non-emergencies) are always in proper order. The Pharisees knew that their arguments would fall flat, so they remained silent. The people then began to find their places for the meal and today’s text resumes with Jesus making a few observations of his own about them.
Jesus notices the various leaders ambitiously scrambling for the most honorable places. Jewish custom at the time is that the people reclined on couches made for 3, the couches were arranged in the shape of a “U”, and the couch at the base of the “U” was the most important, with the person reclining in the middle of that couch as the one with the highest honor. The one reclining behind him and to his left is the second most important and the one reclining to his right and in front of him as the third important. With this arrangement of people rank on each couch, then the couch to the left of this center couch was the next important, the couch to the right the next… Since this was an important Pharisee’s house, something like this was probably the arrangement. But Palestine was multi-cultural, so there may have been some variations, and we can’t be sure exactly what that may have looked like. It isn’t important that we remember all that. What we need to understand is that there were specific places of honor. They knew where these places were, and they were scrambling to obtain them.
Jesus sees this. Since the healing had somewhat silenced everyone, he takes advantage of it by tactfully telling a parable about a wedding feast – a different and more formal banquet, drawing them in to the story, allowing them to see the truth before realizing it was being applied to them. The principles still apply today.
Even today, if we are at a wedding, and not a part of the wedding party, we would not even think about sitting at the head table that is reserved for the wedding couple and those that stood with them in the service. We would not think of sitting at the close tables where parents and immediate family are usually seated. Luckily, in most weddings, these special tables are labeled so there is no confusion.
But imagine someone who knew better, did sit in the groom’s spot while all were still waiting for the wedding party to conclude picture taking and arrive at the banquet hall. Once the groom arrived, not only would that person have to be removed from place of honor, but because the hall has now been filled with people, they would have to sit about as far away from the place of honor as there can be, if there is even a seat available at all. How embarrassing would that be! The Book of Proverbs, 25:6-7 names the principle just as clearly:
Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before his nobles. (NIV)
Better to find a place where you can fit in with stability than to presume to be higher than you are and ever so briefly grab the honor (or the power) before being permanently demoted. Better to pick a lower place setting and allow the host to call you up to a higher place of honor.
We could take this very literally and equate it with simple table manners: Don’t put your elbows on the table, don’t use your pants as napkins, don’t used hands to grab food off the public food tray, don’t double dip the mozzarella stick in the community bowl of marinara sauce, and don’t sit at tables where you don’t belong.
But Jesus is going much deeper than “you should observe the proper social mores”. We know this because he is telling a parable, which by connotation means a simple common-sense story meant to convey a deeper meaning. And we also know it because he concludes the story by naming the deeper meaning. Jesus is not advocating a political game where we pretend to be humble as a path to promotion. He is trying to teach true humility – an attitude that will make the banquet a cooperative and refreshingly joyful experience rather than the combative and emotionally draining experience of self-serving pride. This was the attitude that was causing the chaos Jesus was observing as everyone was fighting for the best seat. It was as if they began the event by playing musical chairs and the music had just stopped. Do you remember that game? Run, bump, push and scramble -- and if you are not faster and more aggressive than others, you will be excluded from the group. Isn’t that a “lovely thing” to teach our young ones…
This is not just about banquets, the job market, or other formal situations. It is about human relationships in general. What would life be like if people didn’t feel the need to knock others down to feel better about themselves (or for any other self-serving reason)? What if people didn’t feel they had to isolate and reject and throw people down, so they move one more step up the proverbial ladder of success -- to ultimately become king of the mountain?
Even if we do manage to get the last musical chair, or reach that pinnacle position, it can at most bring a very temporary joy. It will soon become stressful because everyone climbing that mountain is working to unseat you from your throne. Liken it to the usurper who took the groom’s chair – it may feel fun and glamorous at first. But let that person look around. Everyone in the room will despise the obnoxious gall of that inappropriate position grabber. They all will be relieved when someone official finally puts that person in their proper place.
We all have different skills, different personalities, different roles – and too often we compare and contrast all these differences and tend to rank them as more important and less important, and compete for the highest places, and act like we need some people and not others, or on the flip side, we feel everyone else is more important and therefore we are not needed nor wanted.
But in God’s kingdom, instead of competing, God sees the heart, and gifts us as he sees fit, and places us just as he desires is best for us and for the whole. He sees all these differences as a way of cooperative meshing us all together like the equally important teeth on interacting gears – if everyone plays the role they were designed for, the gears move smoothly and efficiently, faithfully and happily. If cogs are missing, at best we get an inefficient jerky movement as the teeth grind unhappily against each other.
This is what was happening in the Corinthian church. They competed and ranked each other based on their perception of their role and talent. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul explains that every role was important to the successful function of the body of Christ. He reassures some people of their critical role when they were made to feel they didn’t belong. Then Paul turns to those whose self-proclaimed importance made these people feel unwanted and reminds them how critical the humble are to the whole group.
Likewise, Jesus sums his parable in verse 11, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (NRSV)
But this verse also introduces his following conversation with this important host about who he should be inviting to his special feasts.
Jesus puts it in blunt terms to make the point. When you give a luncheon or dinner, don’t invite friends and family and rich neighbors. People who will do the same for you, thus you help propel each other to the places of prominence. Instead, Jesus says, invite those people who cannot return the favor, and then God will reward you for your hospitality to those that most others reject as unneeded. Rejected and ignored because they are in no position to help anyone climb their ladder up to their mountain peak throne.
Remember, Jesus was invited to this Pharisee’s house with all his powerful religious friends to catch Jesus in a flaw that could be used to discredit him. They were thinking of what that could do for their status in the established religion, who saw Jesus as an enemy and threat to their faith.
Jesus isn’t saying it is wrong to invite family and friends and rich people. (James, in James 2:1ff mentions this too – there is nothing wrong with treating rich and important people well, as long as you are treating “poor” people just as well). But if you treat them differently, then your hospitality has taken a form of “I’m being nice to you so I can get something from you” -- and God wants us to love our neighbor -- if they can return the favor, or if they cannot.
Just like in the parable, Jesus is trying to get underneath surface. He wants us to get beyond the “who it is” as to the “why it is them you invite”. He is looking for the motivation for the invitation. The highest form of the gift of hospitality is not about politics – about wanting something from your guest, or “I’ll scratch your back so you can scratch mine”, or “I’ll invite you so I can discover your weaknesses to exploit for my own gain.” Instead, our hospitality is grounded: not out of duty, not out of self-interest, not to feel superior, not even to feel more saintly for our gracious deeds. It is rooted in a sharing of God’s love, who calls us to share that love with all people regardless of our perception of them, other people’s perception of them, or even their perception of themselves; for that is what God did and does for us.
Christ does not invite us to the Communion table, into the heavenly family, because we have achieved a status of goodness or because we will someday be able to pay him back, (we could never do either) but because he loves us and wants to empower us to love others because he (first) loved us.
Prayer Let’s pray. Hospitable God, you invite us to a banquet where the last may be first, where the humble and the mighty all find a happy place. You have honored us by calling us to be your people. But too often we have taken your glorious grace and exchanged it for other priorities-- relying on broken systems that cannot contain you, the fountain of living water, and are powerless to save. We are tempted to do this because we are so surrounded -- and seemingly overpowered -- by such systems of sin and evil that often appear to prosper, and our hearts become discouraged and fail us.
Lord, when we fail, do not withhold your mercy, rush to deliver us and help us and keep us safe in your compassionate faithfulness. We can count on you because you are good and worthy of our trust. You instruct the humble in your ways, and all your paths lead to your love and forgiveness, to your covenant and your will.
By faith in your grace, let us receive again your gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation that nourish our faith as we remember what you have done for us in your love for the world.
Each day we witness works of your love. Some are spectacular, many are quiet and soft like a gentle mother's whisper filled with beauty and wonder. We ask that you use us to reach those needing to experience the miracle of your love. Let us share your abundance with no fear of scarcity; let us greet strangers as angels you have sent! In Christ's name, we pray. Amen.
Benediction (Closing Blessing) Now may the God of peace make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working within and through us what is pleasing in his sight. Amen.
Bible Reading From Malachi 3:13-18, John 3:26-29
It is easy to give up and even give in to worldly values; to imagine that God doesn’t care about fair and right living, and that selfish pride is the way to thrive. Malachi reminds us that a day is coming when we will again know better.
The Lord says, “You said cruel things to me.” But you ask, “What did we say about you?”
You said, “It is useless to worship God. We did what the Lord All-Powerful told us, but we didn’t gain
anything. We cried like people at a funeral to show we were sorry for our sins, but it didn’t help.
[Now] We think proud people are happy. Evil people succeed. They do evil things to test God’s
patience, and God does not punish them.”
Then the Lord’s followers spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to them... The Lord said,
“They belong to me… Parents are very kind to their children who obey them. In the same way I will be
kind to my followers. You people will come back to me, and you will learn the difference between good
and evil. You will learn the difference between someone who follows God and someone who does not. (ERV)
John the Baptist did not lose sight of the right way to follow God. He understood his role and place in the world. But his disciples did get confused over what indicated thriving. In their pride they imagined a need to compete with Jesus for the most followers. Therefore,
His disciples came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the
Jordan, about whom you testified—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him!” John answered,
“A man cannot receive a single thing, unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves
are witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ The one who has the
bride is the bridegroom. But the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and listens for him, is overjoyed
when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine is now complete. (EHV)
Message Covenant Care - Covenant Pride Isaiah 5:1-7
John the Baptist presents himself to his disciples as – for lack of a better equivalent in modern language – as the best man. But the role went far beyond what it is today. This dear friend listened and stood for the groom because ancient custom allowed no contact between the couple before the marriage. He was the official intermediary who negotiated the marriage contract and represented the groom if there were any comp-laints against the bride to be.
In Isaiah 5, the imagery begins with this man standing to address the huge gathering. He draws them in with what sounds like a light musical “toast to the couple”.
Now let me sing for my friend a song of my friend for his vineyard, a vineyard belonging to my
friend in a very fruitful hill. (Isaiah 5:1*)
We might wonder how the groom’s vineyard gets into the mix. But back then, in poetry and music, it wasn’t unusual to describe a bride in those terms, not in the sense of property, but as comparative traits of valuable beauty… (See Song of Songs 4:12, 4:4, 7:4,8,9). In the rose-colored glasses of this groom, he saw her as a person of great value and great promise. And this vineyard is equated to the promised land of Canaan (flowing with milk and honey).
He proceeded to dig it, then to clear it (of stones) then to plant it (with) choice vines. Then
to build a watch-tower in it and even a winepress he hewed out in it,
(Isaiah 5:2a emphasis added)
Now the best man’s song moves fully into the vineyard image. He sings that the groom dug the ground, meaning a most thorough working of the field, breaking the hard ground necessary to receive young and tender plants. He removed all the stones that would prevent growth, and used them to create walls around the field, protecting it from sheep and other grazing animals. Then he planted the highest quality vines. On top of that, he built (rather than the ordinary shelter) the better, taller stone tower with thatched palm branches for the roof to better watch over the rich field. And not only that, he carved out an on-site winepress as well. In other words, no expense or labor spared, no corners were cut. This was a top notch highest quality lavishing of care and investment of energy.
He waited for it to produce grapes, (Isaiah 5:2b emphasis added)
All of this diligent cultivating, weeding, irrigating, washing and pruning happened while the gardener actively waited, anticipating excellent results. This “waiting” is mentioned two more times in this short 7 verse song. That means the enduring care-giving patience of the gardener is a critically emphasized characteristic of the gardener, (the groom). There can be no accusation of not giving the crop more than enough time to flourish… This anticipate objections --
but then it made stinking things. (Isaiah 5:2c)
-- for our light-hearted optimistic toast has a sudden, shocking twist. The field has produced a “bad” crop. The word is unique, so not easily translated. Some interpretations say it could mean that the field produced thorny plants or thistles that choke the vines and are highly inflammable (I had to look that up flammable means something will catch fire when ignited, inflammable means that under the right conditions something will catch fire without an igniting force, and non-flammable means something won’t (easily) catch fire. This type of growth had the potential of being a serious destructive force, or it could mean that the vines grew wild, or had a bad smell or stink, or that the fruit was unripe, spoiled, rotten, and/or the grapes have a bitter, sour taste… But however it is translated, the gist is that the all of these best efforts led to a horrible crop.
The “best man” has recited how much love and care and investment the gardener has placed in his field -- how much effort the patient and diligent groom has graciously placed into investing in and loving his bride to be--but now he accuses the woman of being unfaithful -- and the image shifts to family court. The case has already been laid, about what the groom has done and what the bride has failed to do with more than ample time to respond to his love -- The voice now changes to the gardener/groom himself. He says, or is quoted to say,
And now inhabitant of Jerusalem and man of Judah judge, (Isaiah 5:3a)
(“inhabitant” and “man” are singular collectives. Think the word “you” -- it looks singular but can refer to many as one group as in “y’all”)
And now inhabitant of Jerusalem and man of Judah judge, I pray, between me and my vineyard!
What (was there) more to do a for my vineyard that I did not do with it? Why did I wait for (it)
to produce grapes but then it bore stinking things? (Isaiah 5:3-4)
What went wrong? What else could have been done?
He appeals to the gathered community -- many of them vineyard owners themselves, to gain support and judge the case between the couple. The question that underlies the entire song is “What went wrong? What more could he have done to have a bountiful harvest, a faithful wife?” The grammatical construction (which is beyond me) but scholars say it indicates that every possible necessary action (by the gardener/groom) has been fulfilled. There is no fault lying with him.
No words are put in the mouths of the crowd, but the assumption is that there are no suggestions of incorrect actions or additional actions available.
The voice changes again, and this time the Lord as Judge is pronouncing judgment on the field. The relationship between the gardener and the field has been severed and the field will -- well, hear God’s pronouncement:
And now, please let me announce to you What I am going to do for my vineyard! Its hedge is removed -
it shall be (open to) grazing. Its wall broken down— it shall be (open to) trampling. So I will make it a
waste. It will not be pruned, not be hoed. It shall surely grow up (as) thorns and bushes. And upon the
clouds I will lay a command not to rain on it. (Isaiah 5:5-6)
The natural consequences of growing outside the boundaries, of not cooperating with the gardener -- loss of protection, exposed to the elements, to enemies, to trampling, the neglect making them susceptible to drought… When a field receives such a major disaster, it may not recover for years. Again, the people’s silence agreed with the field’s fault and with the resulting pronouncement. It is what they would do with a field that yields nothing.
The rapid movement from affectionate love ballad turned trial accusation dialing into destruction of the relationship amplifies the shocking and devastating turn of events. And if we haven’t read ahead, all that remains is the big reveal -- the punchline.
(See 2 Samuel 12:1ff) It is likened to the prophet Nathan when he speaks to King David and tells him a parable about a rich man who robs a poor man – as the story is fleshed out David becomes incensed along with Nathan at the injustice of the rich man in the story, and then the story ends and Nathan drives the point home to David: “You are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7a) and then records God saying in essence, “and after all I’ve done for you, too.”
And here in Isaiah, the voice changes again - now it is the prophet announcing to the people the main players of this musical story.
The vineyard of the Lord who rules over all is the nation of Israel. The people of Judah are the
vines he took delight in. (Isaiah 5:7a (NIRV))
The big reveal is that God is the groom, the landowner, and the gathered community is the unfaithful wife, the field that had every advantage yet yielded terrible fruit. And all of a sudden, they realize that they were the guilty ones, and the judgment that they completely agreed with -- was on them.
They realized that the long period of time and care and skill required to build up a successful vineyard make it an excellent metaphor for God's care of his people. Psalm 80:8 says,
When you brought us out of Egypt, we were like your special vine. (ERV) You chased other
nations away and planted us here. (CEV)
And in that planting and care for his special people, he expected what he has always expected of his people throughout the Bible: Justice and righteousness, or as Jesus puts it -- to love God and to love others, doing for them what you would want them to do for you if the foot was in the other shoe. But instead,
When he waited for justice, behold bloodshed! For righteousness,
behold a cry of distress! (Isaiah 5:7b)
As if the imagery of marriage and court and farming weren’t enough literary device -- he now uses word play (it doesn’t translate into English so it is displayed to the right) to drive the point home powerfully and memorably, to draw out the contrast between quality grapes (people) and “stinkers”. His people, instead of treating people fairly according to the Law, they produced bloodshed -- a strong visual for lawlessness and sin, and instead of creating right living and right relationships, all God heard were the cries of people suffering from political and social violence and oppression.
How did it all go wrong?
The underlying question surfaces again. How did it all go wrong? One typical answer was found in our Malachi reading. There, as is often through the Bible and church history; people are blessed by being graciously chosen to be God’s people and privileged to be under his extraordinary covenant care. But then they develop a covenant pride that goes to their head and they treat their status and blessings not as something to be stewards of, as resources to fulfill God’s call and mission -- but as resources to hoard and to use to take advantage of others, unfairly gaining even more to themselves. And in God’s patience, there doesn’t seem to be any instant consequence.
Actions by the oppressors cause circumstantial struggles for the faithful who then imagine that evil strategies are happily advancing the successful (See Psalm 73:esp 12-13). When the reward seems to go to the faithless rather than the faithful, the sinking feeling is that serving God is useless, and more and more turn from the golden rule to exploitation, ravaging, and oppressive practices as well as other values that displease God. The “whole field” turns more and more sour; and the people that once had every privilege were now facing inevitable judgment. (See John 15:6)
And now it dawns on the people that they are not hearing a toast at a wedding event, or a presentation at family court, but they are listening to the opening bars of a requiem, a funeral. It introduces and explains the fitting and understandable reasons they have gathered -- to mourn the death of a nation that had once held such promise as the chosen bride of God, whose patient endurance and care-filled planning could plant a flourishing vineyard, raise a people, and cultivate a nation, but was resisted and rejected, and every turn.
What of the bride of Christ?
The question is, will the bride of Christ, the people who follow Christ and his ways learn from history? Or will we only succeed only in repeating the mistakes of our heritage? Will we humbly seek to be productive in God’s mission and purpose for us? Or will we too hoard the grace and blessings of Christ and use them selfishly for our own advancement?
One nice thing -- God’s patience never changes. In Luke 13:6-8, Jesus told a parable about a man who had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, (this was not an unusual practice to plant a fig or other fruit tree in the vineyard) and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. For three years this tree had been consuming soil nutrients and taking up space –the time it takes a tree to reach full maturity -- and the general rule is, if it doesn’t bear fruit by then, it usually won’t produce fruit - ever. Three years was ample time. So the owner told the gardener to dig it up, it was taking up time, taking up space, wasting valuable soil that we could be using for something productive. But the gardener asked for yet another year where he would lavish even more care on it, hoping it will come around and produce fruit.
God is always more than patient in waiting for us and helping us to play our role in helping God fulfill his mission in his world through us – that we will love God and others through his powerful, amazing grace. Malachi passage concluded by reminding us that God is kind to us, to those who still remain faithful.
Thank you for the role that you play in your homes, church, and community, humbly representing Christ in your life to others.
Closing Prayer Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for your power and your patience with us. You work with us and in us, gifting us to be what you desire us to be in your vineyard. We accept your presence in our hearts, we strive to cooperate with your way, so that you will break the power of sin and darkness within us, restoring order within, for you took our place among the chaos of our life -- realigning our priorities so that we can be set free to remain faithful by your grace. Amen.
Closing Music This is Amazing Grace
Closing Blessing Now may the beauty of God be reflected in your eyes, the love of God be reflected in your hands, the wisdom of God be reflected in your words, and the knowledge of God flow from your heart, that all might see, and seeing, believe and become a part of his great bride…
* Translation of Isaiah 5:1-7 is by John D.W. Watts in the Word Biblical Commentary unless otherwise indicated.
ugust 18, 2019
Bible Reading Luke 12:32-34
Last week, Jesus responded to a crowd member’s financial request by warning them about the dangers of greed and coveting what does not belong to us. He then turns to his disciples and encourages them against this feverish dependence on worldly goods by instead developing a true faith in the fatherly care of God. Hear again the conclusion of that section.
So don’t ever be afraid, dearest friends! Your loving Father joyously gives you his kingdom realm with all its promises! “So, now, go and sell what you have and give to those in need, making deposits in your account in heaven, an account that will never be taken from you. Your gifts will become a secure and unfailing treasure, deposited in heaven forever. Where you deposit your treasure, that is where your thoughts will turn to—and your heart will long to be there also.” (TPT)
Message Covenant Priorities Luke 12:32-46,48b
The priority of a person’s energy and interest is always with the things he or she values most. This is why over-prioritizing earthly riches gets in the way of trusting in God’s provision which prevents us from giving to those that God sends across our path to receive help. But when we have the proper attitude surrounding wealth, our spiritual life will grow, and God will provide our needs and give what is best for us -- treasures that cannot be stolen or otherwise fade way…
Today, Jesus elaborates on this proper attitude by telling us to live alert -- reminding us that God’s people are heavenly minded, while earthly things are temporary. He does this by beginning with what I’ll call the Tom Bodett story, a classic ad still going strong in which a hotel is always alert and prepared to give a “simple down-home hospitality” by promising to “leave the light on for ya.” Hear the words of this first section of Scripture:
Be prepared for action at a moment’s notice. Be like the servants who anticipate their master’s return from a wedding celebration. They are ready to unlock and open the door at a moment’s notice. What great joy is ahead for the awakened ones who are waiting for the Master’s return!... He himself will become their servant and wait on them at his table... Of course, if they knew ahead of time the hour of the master’s appearing, they would be alert, just as they would be ready if they knew ahead of time that a thief was coming to break into their house. So keep alert and ready at all times. For I can promise you that the Son of Man will surprise you and will appear when you don’t expect him. (Luke 12:35-37, 39-40 (TPT))
In this ancient language, it is not unusual to change metaphors rapidly. We start with a groom and end up with a burglar. The absence and unknown time of appearance of the master and groom or the burglar may tempt people to leave the light off for us, to not be diligently about their duties of service, or in defense against crime.
But here, both images are meant to motivate active readiness. In those days, weddings were a community event that could last a week or longer -- and no one knew exactly when the groom would ride into town -- so they were to be alert for his arrival, ready to do whatever service the groom desires, or even better -- being caught doing what they wanted you to do while they were gone.
That is what is going on in the projection -- the groom riding into town on his horse, and a servant diligently waiting, holding a lantern.
Likewise, we would all be prepared for a burglar if we knew if and when he was coming, right? Well, some of us might just be smart and leave (to be safe). That might be preparation in itself. But they didn’t have the kind of security we have, or could have, today. It isn’t a matter of setting alarms and locking doors and sealing windows, if they even had windows they could actually seal. Houses then were generally made of mud bricks - not a wall you’d have to cut through, it could be easily dug through or broken through. So securing the door, if there was an actual door, wasn’t enough to make the place secure. The only way to be secure is to always be ready.
Be ready for his coming
Jesus understood what was coming for his life -- and we, knowing “the rest of the story”, it is easy for us to read back into the story Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion (the thief who took away the world’s greatest treasure). But we also know his resurrection, ascension to heaven and promised coming return. And the Lord who went away will return for his marriage to the church, to his people. And we are to be alert and about his business until that happens. But none of this was on the horizon yet. Jesus disciples would not have had a clue about any of this yet. They would have understood this story -- not in its ultimate fulfillment; they would have understood it more in terms of present issues, issues that still apply to us today.
Be ready against temptation
From the wider context, Jesus was talking about being earthly focused versus heavenly minded - of being obsessed with wealth as our ultimate security versus trusting God to keep us secure.
Be ready for life crises
We understand the wealth that we chase (and especially if we do it unethically) can be here today and gone tomorrow (See James 1:9-11, 4:13-15, 5:1-4)) -- One crisis and [snap fingers] (it is all gone) and we need to be ready to be faithful in handling any crisis of life as a disciple of Christ would when problems come our way -- while we actively (not passively) we actively do what we know we are supposed to do, and as we are empowered to do, as we wait for Jesus to come (through the Spirit to communicate to our hearts) and show us the next steps on how to deal with what has come our way as an unexpected challenge.
Greatly rewarded, but be ready against ego
If we are faithful in his expectations and in service, the master will be so pleased that he will have the servants sit down at the table and he will serve them. In heavenly terms, the heavenly banquet. In human terms, that sounds unrealistic -- It’d be like us all going up to McDonald’s after church, hopping the counter and we sere the people who are hired to serve us. What’s going to happen? Why they might get a big heads -- they are going to think they are customers rather than servers. They may think they are more privileged than everyone else. Oh, they might give -- not out of love, but as a way to get -- as if it were a business investment rather than a relationship between God and his fiancée, the church, his people.
But then again we have to remember we are living in kingdom values in this story, and I can’t help but think of Jesus later kneeling at the feet of his friends and washing their feet like a common servant -- not because they had been so faithful - or were going to be so faithful to him - that clearly was not the case (think Maundy Thursday - Good Friday). It isn’t that they were so faithful that the tables were turned and Jesus now has to serve us -- No, he serves because God is full -- over full of grace for his beloved people, and he is calling us to do the same as the example he gave. Could it be … that this table waiting image is similar to the image of washing the feet? Giving us an example of what it means to serve, because we love, because we are saved.
To whom does it apply?
Peter asks a question, “Lord, … does this apply only to the twelve of us, or is it for everyone else as well?” (Luke 12:41 (TPT))
And Jesus, in his typical fashion, does not simply answer yes or no. He doesn’t answer, “just you twelve of you”, or “everyone”. Instead he uses a drawn-out hypothetical story to answer to whom it applies. This is what he says,
“A trustworthy and thoughtful manager who understands the ways of his master will be given a ministry of responsibility in his master’s house, serving others exactly what they need at just the right time. And when the master returns, he will find that his servant has served him well. I can promise you, he will be given a great reward and will be placed as an overseer of everything the master owns.
“But what if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master delays his coming, and who knows when he will return?’ Because of the delay, the servant elevates himself and mistreats those in his master’s household. Instead of caring for the ones he was appointed to serve, he abuses the other servants, both men and women. He throws drunken parties for his friends and gives himself over to every pleasure. Let me tell you what will happen to him. His master will suddenly return at a time that shocks him, and he will remove the abusive, selfish servant from his position of trust. He will be severely punished and assigned a portion with the unbelievers… For those who have received a greater revelation from their master are required a greater obedience. And those who have been entrusted with great responsibility will be held more responsible to their master.” (Luke 12:42b-46, 48b (TPT))
Two choices 1) Work faithfully
So. In this story, the owner assigns a servant to manage the household, freeing him to do other things. This gives this managing servant a great deal of freedom in how he conducts his master’s affairs and he does them according to the master’s training and oversight. In other words, he knows exactly what he is supposed to do as a managing servant of that household to accomplish his master’s wishes. At some point, the master goes on a business trip, but doesn’t tell the servant how long he is going to be gone. The servant has no idea when he’ll be back -- which leaves him a choice. He can continue to work faithfully with what he has been authorized and gifted to do -- and be caught unawares -- going about the business of his master as he was trained to do. That’s choice one.
Two choices 2) Work for self
Or, in the owner’s long absence -- he may begin to imagine that he is not only the caretaker in the owner’s absence, but to think he was actually the owner -- who can do whatever he wants, however he wants… just as he pleases. Like the McDonald’s that got turned around, here, he can get a big, privileged head and even think, ‘Jesus should be taking care of my feet and waiting tables for me -- and every other one of my whims too’. We don’t usually think it in those brash terms, do we? It is too obviously offensive -- but how often do we ask God for what we want compared to how often we ask what God wants of us?
In a sense, this story goes back to the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. Although God had not left, he walked with them in the garden -- but in the midst of that he had charged them with the responsibility to care for all of it, but they decided to do it their own way rather than God’s and messed it all up. That is why he is not only our Creator God, he is our Re-creating God.
Out of a selfish, swollen ego, this servant begins to think he is not accountable to anyone. He looks down on those surrounding him -- those he was entrusted to care for, those who actually did the grunt work that made him successful, and he began ordering them about according to his personal whims, mistreating them and eagerly trying (unethically) to grab even more power and more status through entertaining friends in inappropriate ways.
Work for self leads to (1) grouped with unfaithful (2) punishment
Jesus says, these people who are placed in areas of responsibility, who are taught and gifted and empowered to serve, but who doubt his promises and do wrong or fail to do right, will be grouped with the unfaithful. Probably not much of an issue for an egocentric, self-indulgent manager, unless he comes to his senses -- but it also includes punishment. And the more we are responsible for, the more for which we are held accountable; the more severe the punishment will be if we deliberately neglect God’s known expectations and calling on our life.
To whom does it apply? All of us… to varying levels
But for those who are faithful in what areas of responsibility they have -- whether it be small or large -- and all of us have some responsibility, right? We have children, grandchildren, fellow parishioners, friends, community members. We all have something that God wants us to share with someone -- a kind word, some sort of support, some sort of help. To not be a burden on others, would be one thing, even. To make God’s work lighter by offering ourselves to his cause -- to share his gracious love by our words and actions.
Rewarded with joy and increased responsibility
To those who diligently and devotedly serve as best they can as the Lord teaches and empowers them, these people will be rewarded with great joy, and more responsibility. Well that last doesn’t necessarily sound like a reward to me, and maybe to some others too -- because the more we have, the more we must be responsible and accountable.
Some may think, ‘Better to do less so we have less to be held accountable for. Over the years, I hear once in a while that some people who are teaching small groups say, “Don’t call me a teacher” and they cite James 3:1, which says: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (NIV) And so to not be judged more strictly, they say, “don’t call me a teacher, I’ll just teach the class.” Except they don’t use the word “teach”, they say they are just a “leader”.
Do they think they are going to fool by God by playing with semantics, by changing a word? I don’t think so. It doesn’t work that way. What he calls us to do he wants us to do. Not doing it, or relabeling it, does not make us not accountable. It makes us a failure in even the little things… And we know from the parable of the talents (If you don’t know those stories, look at Matthew 25:14ff or Luke 19:12ff) and we find that if we are not faithful with even the little we have, we lose even that little bit.
The good thing is that in God’s heavenly kingdom, we will not suffer from the Peter Principle. Are you familiar with the Peter Principle? The Peter Principle means you start with excellence doing this little job and so they promote you to this harder job, which you do not quite as excellently, but okay, and so they promote you to the next level which your not quite as good at, and they keep doing this until you reach a place where you are incompetent at everything. That’s the Peter principle. You are promoted upward and out of your area of expertise to where you are not functioning well. It is a satirical look at hierarchical organizations and the way they work -- or don’t work. But God knows just how much we can grow, just how much potential we have, he knows just what areas we should be working in. He knows just how much he can do through us. He doesn’t assign responsibilities to us that we cannot, with his help, fulfill. And he rewards us with a joy for all that he does enable us to do if we only keep our life in his hands. That is the secret. When we keep out life in his hands, he enables us to do everything we are called to do and we don’t have to worry about being accountable because is guiding us and empowering us every step of the way. Let’s pray.
Closing Prayer Lord, we recognize how important it is that we pursue your will. Guide us and direct us to be all we can be for you and for each other as we place every aspect of our lives into your hands -- for the pruning away the unwanted areas of our life (saying no to temptation and ego and to what stretches us beyond what we can potentially do with excellence), and for your growth and enhancement of us (saying yes to your call and allowing you to stretch us to what we can do with excellence). We give all of ourselves to you for your use as you see fit, so that we will always be ready, going about your business and leaving the light on for your arrival--in your ultimate coming, or in coming to our hearts again today. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 399 Take My Life, and Let It Be
Closing Blessing Now as we go, remember that One who is coming has come and is among us. May his grace go with you as the Father lights your path, the Son’s compassion be the love by which you walk that path, and the Spirit’s presence be the power for each step. Amen.
August 11, 2019
Bible Reading Isaiah 1:1a, 12-13a,c; 15-19a
The prophet reminds us that covenant living with God includes a lifestyle of faith and obedience that is demonstrated in compassionate justice and goodness. Its absence, in God’s eyes, will render invalid, useless, and distasteful -- even your most meaningful worship.
These are the visions that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts… they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool. If you will only obey me, (NLT)
Message Covenant Reminders Genesis 15
Isaiah says worship is only valid when it is accompanied by a heart and life devoted to living a positive, obedient response to God’s will. When we turn from our evil ways and learn to live a good life, our failures will be wiped out like fresh snow blanketing the dirt. Then our prayers and ceremonies will mean something to God. But if we think rituals and prayers are an adequate substitute or can help tip the right-wrong balances for an errant way of living, then we are sadly mistaken. That isn’t how it works. God isn’t keeping score. He isn’t looking to condemn us for any isolated doubt or error. But he is lovingly watching our pattern of living and if it is less than our potential best, he is eager to encourage our transformation and growth. Genesis beautifully illustrates the connection of worship and a heart striving to be devoted.
God initiates the promise, the enabling, and the call
Abram didn’t go to God and say, “I want to be a great nation -- so bless me.” No, before 75-year-old Abram did anything, God told him to leave his homeland and go to a land he would show him, for he would make him a great nation through which all the nations would be blessed. God initiates a promise before we do anything. (By the way, promise comes from a Latin word that means “to send forth” -- so a promise is declaring, “You can count on it so much it is as if it were already done”. Prophets sometimes expressed God’s future actions in the past tense.
God promises what he wants to do for us -- (in Abram’s case - to become a great nation), and then provision is given (Abram’s wealth and an heir) in order for us to be able to do what God wants us to do (to live in such a way that all the earth is blessed).
Abram began with positive obedience. He left home and when they set up camp, he built an altar of worship, reminding him of God’s call on his life. But as he enters Egypt, he forgets about God’s protection and errantly decides that deception was the way to play it safe. He got into deep trouble and was lucky to only be exiled. (Genesis 12:1 ff). Then he became wealthy, and moved to Canaan, where God promised him the land as far as he could see, and descendants as plentiful as the dust of the earth. As Abram moved from place to place, he continued to build altars of worship, reminding him of this covenant relationship with his God. (Genesis 13:14 ff)
God encourages our growth and transformation
But as we come to Genesis 15, God comes to Abram in a vision because apparently, circumstances had caused doubts had set in. God begins with assurance,
“Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” (Genesis 15:1b(NLT))
This gives Abram the opportunity to express his doubts, “All these blessings of wealth to become a great nation, but no child to leave my legacy -- it will all go to a servant”. The Lord reassures him that it would not be a servant, that he would yet have a son who would fulfill the promise. Then he took him out to look at the starry night sky and reminded him how many descendants he would have. (See Genesis 15:2-5)
Circumstantial predictors or trust in God?
God confronts us with the incredible rather than the expected. Do we make current circumstances determinative of our life? Or dare we step out in trust?
Abram believed this powerful visual (See Genesis 15:6a) and
“The Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.” (Genesis 15:6b (NLT))
Are we continuing to pursue our relationship with God?
Righteous is not so much a personal quality of how good we do good things as it is a relational reaching out, a following after, a chasing after a relationship with God -- loving him with all our heart and with all our being, giving the best we have to offer, lifting our lives to him, knowing that even when we fail, he continues to covenant with us. He keeps his promises to us, rescues us, adopts us as his children. And we respond in light of what God has done, and is doing, for us.
Then, I’m guessing this was the next day, the Lord reminded him that he brought him out of his homeland to give him a new land. Apparently, Abram was no longer convinced of this either, “How can I know it is true?” (Genesis 15:7-8) The Lord uses another powerful visual to increase his faith. For us, it is quite graphic and messy and perhaps even offensive. Just remember they lived in a very different time and place and culture. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from the underlying message.
God has Abram play out an ancient traditional method of covenant making. Participating parties didn't just exchange handshakes and business pens and go home satisfied. A binding covenant had to be "cut in blood" to seal the sanctity of the promise and symbolize the life and death seriousness of the commitment. They would take animals (in this case, a heifer, goat, ram; and they would cut them in half and arrange the halves opposite each other, then added a dove and pigeon. Abram protected the carcasses from birds of prey. Now what is supposed to happen is that the superior party would proclaim the conditions of the contract as the inferior party walked among the pieces of animals, in essence stating, “May I become like these animals if I don’t uphold my part of the covenant.” Pretty vivid reminder of our obligations. And scary, since it is this great bible hero who had some very difficult doubting (and miss-acting) periods in his life. If he had those kinds of stumbles and struggles, then how could we even begin?
As the sun was setting; Abram fell into a sleep, in which the Lord told him about the struggles his descendants would endure, but that in the end, he would restore them. (See Genesis 15:12-16)
Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. So the Lord made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given… (Genesis 15:17b-18a (NLT))
Then as the night deepened, a smoking pot and blazing torch (representing God’s presence) moved among the animal pieces. It should have been Abram, but this is the wonderful grace of God -- knowing that we cannot keep our side of the covenant, he takes our place and declares he will keep his promise – (in Abram’s current case, the promised land...)
This is the wonderful essence of God’s interaction with those who answer his call. The all-powerful, the one who is clothed in majesty, the one who reigns above all, who demands and accepts praise from all the nations, the one who is our shield, our strength, our provider, our deliverer, our shelter, our strong tower, our very present help in times of need -- the one who is rich in love and slow to anger -- he comes and does for us what we are not able to do for ourselves. What we cannot earn, what we cannot fulfill, God, in his grace, takes our place, first among the pieces -- and then upon the cross -- to move among the pieces of our lives, bringing healing and hope and increasing our faith equipping us to better fulfill our calling -- to be a people through whom others are blessed. He does it all!
Our part of the covenant? To believe in God and the promise that he makes and to do our best to cooperate with his direction for our life.
Understand, Abram was certainly not perfectly faithful or obedient. Even after this event; he cycled in and out of doubts, became impatient; took things into his own hands, and fell short of the covenant. I’m not criticizing -- don’t we all fall short? How’d we like the worst moments of our life to be recorded for everyone’s perusal and study for centuries to come? But over the long haul of his life, God and Abram remained connected and true to each other…
I’d be remiss if I didn’t do at least a very brief comparison between the old covenant and the new covenant. In the Old Testament, God went to great lengths to fulfill his covenant promises -- to create a nation, a legacy of heirs, and the promised land -- Abram’s role was to receive these blessings and act on his trust in God’s covenant relationship by being a blessing to others. It was the for the fulfillment of this covenant that God brought the people out of the slavery of Egypt…
In the New Testament, God went to great lengths to fulfill his new covenant promises -- to create a heavenly-valued kingdom on earth, adopting us as his children (a new legacy of heirs), and the promise of heaven some day. Our role was to receive these blessings and act on our trust in God’s covenant relationship to by being a blessing to others. It was for the fulfillment of this covenant that Jesus came to die on the cross, that we could be bought out of the slavery of sin.
Are we ready to move forward with God?
Ultimately, Abram continued to move forward, striving to be what he was called to be. God demonstrates over and over again that he takes full responsibility for the relationship, for the promise he gives -- and then enabling us to be what we ought, and gracing us when we fail. He assures us that we will yet fulfill our destiny for he will fulfill his promise to us. With that kind of a commitment from our God, how can we not keep striving to move forward with him and in his ways?
Striving means moving our lives forward under God’s guidance. It reminds me of the joke where a new downhill snow skier is speeding down the slope on direct trajectory toward another person. This person was primarily a golfer, so he shouts his warning: “Fore!, Fore!, Fore!” But the person never moved and they crashed and rolled, ending up in a heap. The first one apologizes, saying, “I’m just learning how to do this, I guess I haven’t really figured out how to turn or to stop.” The other replies, “That’s OK, I’m just learning too, and I haven’t figure out how to start moving yet.” Moving forward in our journey with God may mean learning to start some things in our life and to stop other things in our life so we don’t end up in a heap.
Are we able to adjust?
Change may be necessary because, just like Abram, we’re going to get it wrong from time to time. Surrounded by a plethora of leaders and their diverse political systems, economic systems, value systems and religious systems, it is easy to get mixed signals and become confused over the right path. Or, knowing the right path, we may be tempted and fail and fall from the path. But also, like Abram, we need to voice our concerns in prayer, find and/or return to living the right path, and discern how to best live out our covenant relationship with God. Sometimes Abram was successful and exemplary, other times he was a miserable failure. Over the course of our lives, aren’t we all?
He helps us overcome!
But ultimately, despite setbacks, Abram’s faith climbed past circumstances, circum-vented surrounding views, and he kept adjusting and realigning priorities in order to move toward his covenant God. He was able to do this only because God’s consistent love, patient grace, and covenant promise overcame Abram’s faltering trust and errant actions and he became the obedient “father of faith”.
And it is only because of God’s consistent love, patient grace, and covenant promise that he overcomes our faltering trust and errant actions and we can become the obedient “children of faith”.
Closing Prayer Lord, when we consider our destiny, our spiritual paths; we sometimes wonder who we are -- lost in the midst of our circum-stances, surrounded by pious sounding but conflicting points of view. Yet we are here because we desire to follow you. Once we were secure in familiar territory, in our sense of belonging, not questioning the norms of our culture, the values shared by our society. But you have called us out and away from home, and we do not always know where you are leading us, what our future holds -- but we trust you to hold on to us.
Journey with us, so that we may not become deterred by hardship, unfamiliarity, or doubts, but remain steady in you as our hope. You have been what we need from the beginning of our lives, and we live to tell the next generations of your promise, your strength, and your power. We give you our lives in trust, and strive to obey where you lead, that we may find happiness in Jesus name. Amen.
* Closing Hymn # 467 Trust and Obey
* Closing Blessing And now as we go, remember that we are not our own, but we belong to Christ. So freely and wholeheartedly yield your lives for his use and pleasure. Amen.
August 4, 2019
Bible Reading Luke 12:22-34
Daniel Whittle wrote that there are a lot of things we do not understand about God’s gracious acts for us and within us. But we can know in whom we believe -- and be persuaded that he is able to keep what we’ve committed to him until he comes again. We will hear later about how Jesus warns the crowds about relying on the wrong thing, but then in Luke 12:22 ff he assures those who are following him can be confident of God’s care…
Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing.’ Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things? “Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? “And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things.
These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom. “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. (NLT).
Message Covenant Confidence Luke 12:13-34
Abundance is a relative term, so when the Bible talks about our focus in economic stewardship, we relegate those texts to the very rich, and almost no one thinks they fit that category. In one interview, Business mogul Ted Turner said "People love money. It doesn't matter how much you've got, you want more…. look at Bill Gates, ... he's given a lot away, but I challenged him to give even more, because ... he can buy and sell both of us and then keep the change.” The host said to the audience: We're live in New York with [the] poor Ted Turner ....
The people Jesus addressed that day would consider most all of us very wealthy. The text applies to us. But how does it apply? The context gives us clues.
Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.” Jesus replied, “[Man], who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” (Luke 12:13-14) (NLT)
Crowds are pressing around Jesus as he treks to Jerusalem. He was warning them about things that get in the way of their spiritual journey. He assures us that God cares about even the smallest part of your life – using his care for small sparrows and the hairs on our head as an example of how extremely valuable we are to him. Therefore we should take confidence in and prioritize God who has power over our soul and whose Spirit will guide us through every trial.
Then someone in the crowd, maybe he couldn’t hear that well, maybe he was just distracted, and/or maybe the words about security and trial triggered his thoughts about a legal dispute he was having with his brother over his father’s inheritance, as if that would provide the security he needed, and called out from the crowd, “Teacher, make my brother give me what I want.” .
This man was on the opposite page of everything Jesus was trying to say, so he is, let’s says, not happy. He says, “Man, (a word of distance and dis-connection) who made me judge over your case? The authority I carry, the purpose I have come -- is not about this kind of material stuff -- Then Jesus turns to the crowd and warns them all to beware of ALL kinds of greed and coveting something that belongs to someone else).
A dog was crossing a bridge over a stream with a large piece of meat in his mouth. He saw his reflection in the water. Thinking it was another dog with a bigger piece of meat, he immediately dropped his meat and dived to attack the other dog. His greed cost him everything. He lost the illusion of meat he chased thinking it would make him happier. He lost the meat did have to the water. And he ended up wet and went home with his tail tucked between his legs. Beware of wanting things you aren't meant to possess.
Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” (Luke 12:15 (NLT))
After the warning, Jesus tells a parable, then turns from the crowd to his followers and backtracks to where he was before he was interrupted -- reminding them what you heard read by Debbie -- that they don’t have to worry or be afraid about life or food and clothes because God cares even for ravens and lilies and he knows our needs and wants to give us the kingdom and we can be willing to share of ourselves and resources because you can’t lose out in that kind of an investment. Worry and fear adds nothing to the life you are living.
Let’s back up to the parable.
Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 12:16-21)
Foolish Barn Builders (F.B.B.)
If we study this imagery apart from the words that surround it, it may seem like Jesus is criticizing someone for working hard, doing well, and preparing for the future. Ecclesiastes 3:3 tells us there are times to tear down and times to build (in this case, bigger barns). But Jesus is warning that there is a larger issue, a spiritual emptiness which this man has foolishly ignored.
We know this, first, because Jesus is using the story to illustrate his answer to the man in the crowd about the dangerous temptation of greed, and that there is more to life than the sum of the things we have.
(F.B.B.) Think only of self
We know this second, because is this very short story, there is a plethora of “I” and “my”. So much so that he even sought counsel only from himself and predicted the results of his plan only to himself. Not a single thought went to God who gifted him -- yes he worked the land, but the language makes it clear this went way beyond a bumper crop - it was a miraculous crop. I liken it to when the disciples fished and caught nothing, and then under Jesus instruction caught so much they couldn’t haul in their breaking nets without help from another boat.
(F.B.B.) Confuse material gain with spiritual security
And not a single thought to the community from whom he may profit as they purchased the crop, and perhaps it is even for them that he had been so blessed, so that the community could survive the next season. Yet he doesn’t give God or others a first, second, or stray thought. He thinks only of himself.
So much was this foolish farmer counting on his material wealth that he now figures he is set not only for life, but for eternal life. We can be tempted to get so comfortable and secure with our possessions that we forget about our need for God, forget our frail mortality, forget that we can't take it with us.
It is like the story of the professional who had accumulated great riches and was convinced he could take it with him. He withdrew two large bags of money from the bank and told his wife to hide them in the attic; so that when he died, as his spirit rose he could grab the bags on his way up. Years later, the death occurred, and the wife was cleaning out the attic. She discovered the two large bags of money. She shook her head and said, "I knew he should have told me to hide them in the basement".
The rich fool, and sometimes we too, forget that our life is not ours. Apart from God, there is no way that we can accumulate what is needed to bring strength and safety and life to our spirits. We cannot control our life -- we cannot add one hour to it; by worrying; or by what we own. Jesus said "what good is it ... to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self'?' (Luke 9:25 (NIV)). What good is it to chase after and accumulate things if the pursuit costs you the very essence of who you are meant to be... denies you the ability to fulfill your destiny?
Wise Barn Builders (W.B.B.)
You know the old joke about when someone says taking such a certain action will kill you. And the reply comes back, “Yeah, but what a way to go”. In a serious take on the joke, there were many people of the Bible, including Jesus, who boldly faced insurmountable odds that ultimately cost them their life. But, generally speaking, even if they knew it may mean death, it wasn’t choosing to die or how to die, but choosing how they were going to live not matter the resistance.
Being rich is neither good nor bad, having possessions is neither good nor bad; having big and full barns is not good or bad -- what is critical -- is that in any situation and circumstance, we choose to be rich toward God. But what does that mean?
(W.B.B.) Grateful for the gift
First, we do it by being grateful. Who enables the seed to germinate, who sends the sun, the rain, the soil? Granted, we artificially do some of these things today, and no doubt this farmer's hands worked diligently to cultivate his crops. But who enables the hard work? Who enables our next breath? Our next heart beat? The farmer’s contemplation, and ours should consider how to properly and generously express our thankfulness for God’s gracious material and/or non-material blessings that he gives and/or enables us to gain.
(W.B.B.) Invest in and for others
Thanksgiving for blessings al-ready given helps establish a confidence that what God has provided, he can provide again, which leads to a willingness to invest the resources God has given to us to accomplish His will, because this is why He has given us these blessings in the first place.
For our provision yes, but if there is extra -- to provide for true needs of others whose (to keep the metaphor of the story) whose crop has failed -- who have had unfortunate setbacks in life.
In 1783, French general and politician Marquis de Lafayette managed to fill his barns with wheat in spite of a generally poor harvest in the area. One of the workers said, "The bad harvest has raised the price of wheat, it is the time to sell." Lafayette thought about the hungry peasants in the surrounding villages and said, "No, this is the time to give". He invested in his community.
(W.B.B.) Generous in re-sources and/or deeds
True treasures are found when we invest ourselves in the lives of people -- meeting needs by exercising the gifts God has given us and the skills he has enabled us to learn and perform. We may discover the treasure of Christ-in-others as we gratefully and generously invest our lives in each person that Christ places across our path.
Robert Fulghum, of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten fame, admits that success is a challenge, and the challenge is to be a good steward. He said, "I don't think I should be given extra credit for doing [the charity work that I does]," he says. "I think you should think ill of me if I didn't do that."
When God blesses us with life itself and so much more -- The wise way to build our spiritual storehouse is to seriously consider the wonderful privilege of how we can invest the blessings he has provided for us to work with. It may include material wealth, or we may have only spiritual gifts, skills, talents, and time, as the means by which we can invest our lives in others -- beginning with those right in our own household.
Paul advises us (in 1 Timothy 6:17-19) to not to be arrogant or to put our hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put our hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment, and that we should be rich in good deeds, and generous and willing to share -- and allow us to take hold of life that is truly life. Or as Art Linkletter once described spiritual richness as the desire to: Do a little more than you’re paid to; Give a little more than you have to; Try a little harder than you want to; Aim a little higher than you think possible; And give a lot of thanks to God for health, family and friends --- [because we aren’t in it for the money -- we are in it for how we can contribute to our world].
When we give ourselves fully to the Lord, all other giving becomes easier and falls into place. God calls us to be generous with whatever resources and or abilities we do have. Let's give thanks for that which we have been blessed, and out of the abundance of what we have, continue to use our resources to sow seeds of compassionate generosity to God and to our communities.
Hymn # 354 (vv 1,2,4) I Surrender All
Closing Blessing Go now with purpose, and God will honor the dedicated offering of your lives. Go in love and peace, for it is the gift of God to those whose hearts and minds are rich in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
July 28, 2019
Bible Reading Colossians 2:11a,c -14, 17,19b, 6-7
As we resume our series in Covenant Living, Paul describes what Christ did to allow us to enter into and maintain that covenant. He wrote,
When you came to Christ, ... Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. You were dead because of your sins || and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross... For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is [the source and substance of] that reality. Christ [is] the head of the body (NLT) and his life supplies vitality into every part of his body through the joining ligaments connecting us all as one. He is the divine Head who guides his body and causes it to grow by the supernatural power of God.
[Therefore] In the same way you received Jesus our Lord and Messiah by faith, continue your journey of faith, progressing further into your union with him! Your spiritual roots go deeply into his life as you are continually infused with strength, encouraged in every way. For you are established in the faith you have absorbed and enriched by your devotion to him! … (TPT)
Message Covenant Communication Luke 11:1-13
INTRO: What you just read was Paul describing the great lengths to which Jesus went to make it possible for us to enter and maintain a mutually committed relationship (a covenant relationship) with God. Relationships require communication. Jesus was quite consistent about it.
“Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1b)
One day after Jesus finished praying, a disciple references the common practice that spiritual leaders taught their followers how to pray and asks Jesus to teach them. Jesus gives this shorter version than the liturgical form he taught during the sermon on the mount in the book of Matthew which is the one we recite at the end of our prayers in the worship service. The question often arises whether the prayer is to be prayed word for word or whether it is an example prayer in which the principles of prayer are taught. Some suggest the prayer in Matthew is a general pattern for praying because Jesus introduces it by saying, “this is how you should pray” (so it is an example), while in Mark, the intent is word for word repetition, for Jesus introduces the prayer by saying,
“When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:2b-4 (NIV) emphasis added)))
I think before a gracious God who looks at our heart’s intent, there is danger in enforcing any outward form or words too legalistically. But whether you see the prayer as a model, an example to follow; or as specific words to be repeated, or both; prayers are never to be repeated with pompous ceremony, (Jesus made a big deal about this in Matthew 6:5 ff), nor as a magical incantation as if it were a verbal rabbit’s foot bringing us protection and prosperity, or the biggest danger - because of its repetitious familiarity -- as a thoughtless, empty “mechanicalism”, where we just go through it without ever thinking about what we said.
I remember a seminary professor telling us that he got up one morning and was a mile and a half from home before he realized he was driving his car. Some habitual routines become so familiar to us we don't even realize we are doing them. Going into auto pilot mode is great for tying your shoes and brushing your teeth -- but not so much for things like driving and praying.
Pray from the heart
Your spouse or close friend can tell the difference between an automatic, distracted, rote "love you.", or especially if it is said to receive a favor”; and the "I love you" where you are expressing your current undivided attention and awareness of your deep-felt devotion and desire to serve. Spouses, is that true? Can you tell when they are just saying the words to say the words? And if that is true of each other, then how well do you think God, who sees the heart, understands what we mean -- or fail to mean -- as we utter our prayers and other acts of private or public worship or service? The Lord’s prayer and all prayers and service should be filled with heartfelt, sincere thoughtfulness and application to daily living.
Today’s emphasis is not going to be on the prayer itself, but I’ll give a quick comment on each phrase.
He begins - “Father”. I think I said this just recently, but I’ll say it again. Traditional prayers used a formal version of “father” that tended to create distance between the pray-er and the pray-ee, distance between God and themselves; while Jesus uses the Aramaic Abba, (which is still used in family relationships today) the intimate address of a child to a parent. The prayer is meant for those who have been lovingly adopted as children of God.
Reverenced by us and spreading out
“hallowed (reverenced) be your name”. In those days, a person’s name indicated their essential character. (It is why sometimes people of the Bible were renamed as they changed their life’s course). This phrase means we recognize who God is, and we have a hope that motivates us to put to feet (that we will act on) that he will be recognized this holy, this hallowed, this reverenced way throughout all his creation by all people.
Kingdom - authority
“your kingdom come” conjures up for us the idea of geographical boundaries, sometimes complete with palaces and castles, but a better sense of the phrase is that God’s authority is exercised and recognized not only in our hearts but more and more in his fallen world until it finds its complete fulfillment in Jesus Christ when he returns again.
“Give us each day our daily bread”, bread being the staple food and metaphor for everything we need for earthly existence and living within his will. It is the provision to do those two things. The challenge is that we have a hard time distinguishing between what is bread and what is bread pudding -- between what we need and what we think we need but really is just a want. The verb form is in a continuous present tense… Keep on giving, and when combined with “each day” and “daily”, it means we don’t say New Year’s Day resolution prayers on January 1st, and then we forget about God until our January 1st next year when we do it again. It is meant to be a continual, daily reliance and connection with God.
Forgive – receive and give mercy
“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” At first hearing it may sound like if we forgive others, the God has to forgive us, as if we earned it. But no human effort of any kind ever earns forgiveness -- it is always grounded in God mercy -- his undeserved but freely given love. There are two senses to this phrase. (1) The first is that if sinful people like us can forgive each other, then how much more will the merciful God forgive us if we ask (therefore, we can approach him for mercy confidently). (2) The second sense is that if we are sincerely asking for forgiveness, we are recognizing that we have done something wrong, that we have fallen short of God’s glory, that we are guilty of sin and in need of forgiveness. And if that is true, how can we want forgiveness for ourselves and then, when the sandal is on the other foot, not be willing to offer it to someone who needs our forgiveness? If we want to receive forgiveness, we should be willing to give forgiveness.
Temptation – act on desire to sin no more
Forgiveness, then, naturally flows into the final phrase in Luke’s prayer, “And lead us not into temptation” for the person who sin-cerely wants to be forgiven will sincerely want to sin no more. They won’t want to do it again. The phrase is not implying that God leads us into temptation, James says do not be deceived, God is not tempted, nor does he tempt anyone. He only gives good and perfect gifts (See James 1:12-17).
We know we are forgiven sinners, and we are asking God to lead us away from those circumstances that will expose us to those things in which we are vulnerable. We all have weaknesses, temptations that we are not good at resisting. And so we are asking God to lead us away from those things, or if unable to avoid the situation, at least to keep us alert and on guard so he can empower us to stand up against it.
And then on the heels of this prayer Jesus then gets to the heart of this covenant communication by telling them a parable.
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. (Luke 11:5-8 (NIV))
The story is easily misunderstood. It could sound like even if you don’t plan ahead, but if you are loud enough and persistent enough and obnoxious enough and manipulative enough, and you can stir up enough trouble; God, or others, will give you what you want anyway. It is kind of like the wolf saying, if you don’t give me your bread, I’ll huff and puff and blow your house down and take the bread for myself. That is not what Jesus is trying to say in this story. Let’s get into the culture and listen to what Jesus is really trying to say.
Starting with the travelers, (1) Late arrivals were not uncommon because people were not riding around in air-conditioned cars. They avoided the heat of the day because they had to walk, or at best, ride animals. (You know it is beautiful when the atmosphere of the building (hot and sticky) just ties you right into the climate of the story). Because they avoided the heat of the day they often arrived late at night. (2) When we arrive late at night, the first thing most of us want to do is find a bed and plop into it as quick as we can because we are exhausted. But in their difficult travels, because they we so physically drained from the journey, bread was more than just a selfish whim for a casual mid-night snack. The bread and water were a legitimate need to give their body the opportunity to restore itself during the night. (3) Further, they couldn’t text ahead and say, “I’m going to be there at such and such a time so be ready for me.” Even if the host knew they were coming, they might not know the exact time for sure, and may not even be sure of the day; so they could easily be surprised and unprepared.
Moving to the host, then: (4) people weren’t able to add preservatives to their bread, and they didn’t have cooling systems to help keep it, so bread was made daily or it would just go to waste, so it would not be unusual to have out on any given night. (5) There are no 24-hour marketplaces you could run to in order to get a fresh supply. (6) And yet, hospitality was a sacred duty.
Enter the host’s friend: (7) and this is critical -- these two neighbors are friends, they were friends. (8) The assumption is that they were both on the lower side of the economy (another reason they wouldn’t have extra bread laying around to go to waste). Probably living in one room homes. The set up, then, would be that the whole family would sleep on a raised platform in the back part of the house, their animals brought in to protect them from nighttime predators, so they were in the front part of the house. To get up to help his friend, then, would be a disruptive force that would rouse the whole household and maybe even the whole neighborhood.
Covenant friendship / Legitimate needs
(8) And now the next critical point -- Jesus says, “Suppose the friend says, ‘No.’” Jesus and those listeners knew that because these neighbors were friends, and because of the sacredness of hospitality; this would never, or at least, should never have happened in their culture. But even if it did happen, the neighbor would still get up to give the bread to the needy host because his neighbor and friend with a legitimate need had “shameless audacity” -- which some mistakenly interpret to mean that he nagged and cajoled and knocked and banged and manipulated until he got his way. But what it really means is, he had such a shameless audacity to show up at such an late hour, which means he was boldly relying on the strength of that friendship to overcome the inconvenience. (9) And finally, the clincher – the point of the parable: if this is true of what imperfect sinfully selfish human friends do for each other, then how much more will your heavenly father be eager to come to your aid and rescue in your legitimate needs?
And lest the story is misunderstood, Jesus clarifies. First, he clarifies the asking…
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10 (NIV))
Keep on asking, seeking, knocking
While our prayers are not to be pompous or pester-some, they should be persistent. If we make no effort to consistently pray, then we must not want it very much. You ever hear a kid in the store going down the toy aisle? How often to they ask? Do they think, “Okay, I asked them once, now I’ll just sit there quietly and see what they do.”? Doesn’t work that way, does it? No, we persistently ask.
Again, the three verbs, ask, seek, and knock are also in the continuous action form. So, it means he us saying We keep on asking, (earnestly focused on the desired answer -- it is not vague or half-hearted.) We keep on seeking (we are faithful in prayer and all the other activities that may help usher in the answer), Asking for a job may be a specific and earnest desire and we may be asking, asking, asking, but we never get off the couch – while nothing is impossible for God, he is going to have a hard time answering that because he won’t be able to work with the people, or work in you. We have to do everything on our side to make that prayer come true as well. So God and work in us, and through us (e.g. to impact the potential employer), to bring about his answer for us. We have to do our part so that God can do his work in us and through us to reach that employer. And then, we keep on knocking. (that is, with sincerity and consistency, not to badger God, but to spend time with him because that is how you develop deep friendships.
I like the way Rabbi Leona Medina explained prayer. Watch a [person] on a boat that is out from shore a little bit and someone has thrown them a rope. They grab the rope and are pulling [themselves] to shore. If you were confused about [the perspectives] – if you see only the man and the rope, you might think that he is pulling the shore to him. In prayer, some people have much the same lack of perspective, the same misconception, the same confusion. Some believe [that by asking, seeking, and knocking] that they are pulling God closer to them [so they can get what they want]. But in fact, heartfelt prayer pulls you closer to God.
Finally, Jesus concludes by clarifying the giving…
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13 (NIV))
What we ask versus what is best
The implication is that we may not necessarily get what we seek. Just like some children’s requests of parents, no matter how much they repeat them in that toy aisle, the parent knows that toy isn’t going to be good for them and we deny them that request; because they don’t see the big picture like the parents (hopefully) do. And sometimes we don’t always understand – we can’t see ahead and we can’t see what is happening wide and broad, and we ask for things that we think seem good to us, but in the big picture and the long term that we cannot see, we do not realize what is best for us and/or those around us, and just as a parent sometimes says “No”, God cannot grant such wishes because as James said, every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights, and he does not vary from this [just because we ask him to].
Just as the friend who gives on the basis of an imperfect human friendship, so now it is father and child. Imperfect, sinful fathers still know how to love and give to their children good gifts, not useless or dangerous ones. That there are parents who fail in this -- that is not the point of the story. How much more will God know how to give what we truly need: “good things” (is how Matthew qualifies it) while Mark goes on to the ultimate good gift of the Holy Spirit whose presence works within our lives. This is the promise of covenant friendship conversation: his presence, his peace (whether we sense it or not), and his Paraclete – the Holy Spirit. When everything is going great, or when the bottom falls out, what more or better thing can you ask of God than for God to give his very self to you? To be your friend, your neighbor, your soul mate, your strength, your confidence, your provider of every good gift that you receive.
Closing Prayer Let’s Pray: Lord encourage us to depend more fully on you, to connect our lives to you the Almighty One who is the source of our life. Teach us to live as you taught us to pray, that we are open to your love and purpose in your creation, that we are willing to be made into the likeness of Christ, who went to such great lengths to let go of our sins and offer us forgiveness, and adopt us into the family of a merciful Father. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 390 (to tune of Amazing Grace) Forgive Our Sins...
Closing Blessing Now go in the name of the one whose mighty power has raised you to new life, who has plunged your spiritual roots into the depths of his life, and establishes you in your journey of faith in union with him. Amen.
July 21, 2019
Note: This Sunday had a guest speaker. There is no manuscript. To hear that message, use the audio sermon file. I have included a message given in a recent worship service at The Bluffs (a senior community). – Pastor Chuck
Message Why The Spirit Groans Romans 8:22-27
Preceding tonight’s passage, Paul tells us that we who are led by the Spirit are adopted as children of God, and we can call him Abba (an affectionate title (Daddy), Abba, Father. And that his Spirit will testify to our spirits that we are God’s children. And then he talks about sharing in his sufferings so we can share in his glory. It seems like that is a verse that gets leapfrogged over a bit in order to get to the poetic words we are looking at tonight -- yet it is probably introducing the idea that leads to those poetic words. Verses that describe how prayer works to those who love God… This is what Paul says:
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved... 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accor-dance with the will of God. (Romans 8:22-27 (NIV))
A minute ago, we sang, “... sweet hour of prayer! thy wings shall my petition bear to him…” Charles Spurgeon once said, "The tail feathers of pride should be pulled out of our prayers, for they need only the wing feathers of faith.”
People may rave, "what remarkably beautiful language they used in that prayer!" Perhaps, but God looks at the heart. When we pray, do we offer our prayers to one another, to our own ears, or to God? Fine language is fine, but if it is without heart; then it is an empty sound to God.
But if at the heart of our prayers are the groanings against reality -- times our life get so “ARRGGG!” --- so that even if we could figure out what to pray for, we wouldn’t know how to put it into words. To God, who sees the heart, they may be the best prayers, for they are passionately felt.
Visit a house with a little child that cannot yet speak plainly. She cries for something, making very odd and objectionable noises, combined with signs and movements, which are mostly meaningless to us, but her parent understands her exactly, and attends to her pleadings. Parents can translate their baby's talk, comprehending incomprehensible noises. A parent knows their child's needs before the child knows what they want. They stutter and stammer, unable to get words out, but the parent sees and takes the intended meaning.
Sometimes our prayers don’t fare much better. But God knows all about us and our hearts, and he understands the cryings, sighings, and chatterings of His bewildered children. The Spirit takes the stammering of our prayerful hearts and lifts them to heaven in perfectly elocuted music to God’s ears.
Some see the groaning of reality as inappropriate to the Christian life (especially the ones who like to skip over that “sharing in his sufferings” verse :) ). They believe the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit brings only ecstasy, jubilance, and rejoicing. Therefore, keeping in step with the Spirit, these people tell us; is a life of constant celebration and almost giddy happiness.
So in those times when our hearts may ache and hurt, we feel pressured to look “Christian” to these happiness hunters. We deny our sadness and hurt and frustration and vulnerable-ness, and bury it deep, and pretend everything is good and under control.
As God's saved children, we have peace with God, and can have the peace of God; we are blessed in ways that are too numerous for us to count, which come from His gracious and loving care.
But at the same time, the Spirit hears the cries and the groanings of our heart, burdened by life’s realities, which in this text is not presented as rare exceptions of life, but the norm for Christian living.
Groaning is normal because (1) Life is complicated. So, we who love God are afraid to ask, or fear we are asking for the wrong thing – how does that phrase go? ‘Be careful what you ask for, you may get it.’ ... and being unsure, we hesitate to ask, or don't know how to ask, and our spirit moans under our confusion.
(2) We groan because it is an expression of feelings that can't be put into words. Words cannot convey the depth of it, the feelings surrounding it, whatever is this topic we are looking at that is so raw to us.
(3) And we groan because we look out at the corruption of our culture. We also look within and see our how badly damaged is the image of God for which we are designed to have and reveal.
We see so sharply the difference between what is and what could and should and will be. We see the jading of justice, the missing mercy, the lack of love, we see God’s will not being followed; and it causes us to groan.
In the book, Isaac Asimov Laughs Again: Asimov tells the story of Rabbi Feldman, who has been having trouble with his congregation. It seemed they could not agree on anything, and controversy filled the air until the Sabbath itself became an area of conflict. Unhappiness filled the synagogue.
The council leader said, "Rabbi, this cannot be allowed to continue. We must hold a conference and settle all areas of dispute.” The rabbi agreed.
The time of the special meeting arrived. The rabbi and council met around the magnificent mahogany table in their conference room. the dealt with the issues one by one. As they did, it became clear that the rabbi was a lonely voice in the wilderness.
The council leader said, "Come, Rabbi, enough of this. Let us vote and allow the majority to rule." He passed out the slips of paper, and each person made their mark. The slips were collected, and the leader said, "You may examine them, Rabbi. It is 11 to 1 against you. We have the majority."
The rabbi rose to his feet majestically, "So now you think because of the vote that you are right and I am wrong. Well, that is not so. I stand here and call upon the Holy One of Israel to give us a sign that I am right and you are wrong."
And as he said so, there came a frightful crack of thunder and a brilliant flash of lightning that struck the mahogany table and cracked it in two. The room was filled with smoke and fumes and the council members were hurled to the floor. Through the carnage, the rabbi remained tall and untouched, his eyes flashing and a grim smile on his face.
Slowly, the council leader lifted himself above what was left of the table, hair singed, glasses hanging from one ear, his clothing in disarray. He said, "All right, 11 to 2. We still have the majority."
We together become so certain of what we want that God’s desire takes second place to our own determinations. We groan because we see the ever-widening gap between the painful realities on earth and the promises of heaven, and God’s Spirit encourages us to recognize the difference.
What are we to do with the difference between our eternal optimistic idealistic hope of heaven on earth; and the seemingly constant slap of the realities of our corrupt culture? We read the paper and we want to be shocked, but we aren’t even surprised anymore.
Paul says we can’t stick our head in the clouds of personal heavenly ecstasy, nor can we give in or give up to the painful consequences of what it means to live in this fallen creation. Doing either will cause us to forget that we are called to represent his redeeming, transforming, restoring work to his creation.
What are your prayers producing in you? Does it give you a hunger for heaven on earth? Does it give you a healthy discontent with what is wrong with the way things are, creating a desire to make those things better -- through prayer, through acts and words of kindness? If so, the Holy Spirit is producing in you a heart for God.
July 14, 2019
Bible Reading Romans 10:6-13
Paul quotes today’s sermon text, using it to demonstrate that when we live by faith according to the Word, we don’t have to earn our salvation by working our way up to Jesus, and we certainly don’t need to rescue him by our works. Trust that God in Jesus has brought our salvation near so that all we need is to believe and call on him. This is what he writes:
But the salvation that comes through faith says, “You don’t need to search the heavens to find Christ and bring him down to help you,” and, “You don’t need to go among the dead to bring Christ back to life again.” For salvation that comes from trusting Christ—which is what we preach—is already within easy reach of each of us; in fact, it is as near as our own hearts and mouths. For if you tell others with your own mouth that Jesus Christ is your Lord and believe in your own heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in his heart that a man becomes right with God; and with his mouth he tells others of his faith, confirming his salvation. For the Scriptures tell us that no one who believes in Christ will ever be disappointed. Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect: they all have the same Lord who generously gives his riches to all those who ask him for them. Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. (TLB)
Message The Rewards of Covenant Living Deuteronomy 30:9b-20a
In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus also drew on these final words of Moses in Deuteronomy when he said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (NIV) or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.” (MSG)
These Deuteronomy words also became the basis for a New Year’s Covenant Renewal Service, most vividly described in Joshua 24. For natural watering and sunning reasons Mt. Gerizim flourished in greenery, while Mt. Ebal was rocky and barren. Joshua gathered the people in the valley of Shechem, a natural amphitheater between the two mountains. He divided up the priests who went up into the two mountains -- and at the appropriate times, the priests on the green mountain called down the blessings of obedience, and the priests on the barren mountain called down the curses, the consequences, of disobedience. It was a powerful visual. Then the people were asked what they were going to do, and they promised to obey the Lord.
As we pick up the text in Deuteronomy, we have reached the point in Moses’ address where he answers what happens if the wrong choice is made. Will cursing destruction be the final conclusion of their story, of our story?
By the time we conclude 2 Kings, Jerusalem is in ruins, the Temple is destroyed, the kingship is demolished. There are thousands are casualties, and the cream of the survivors are exiled to Babylon far away from their home. Those who lived in those consequences basically had 3 choices.
Endure through hopeless stoicism
Some resigned themselves to what their situation was and endured it. There are times we have to “soldier on” in circumstances that are beyond our control. Some of you may remember the song sung by Frank Sinatra, “That’s Life” where we are riding high in April, shot down in May… Sometimes things just happen. But it is actually a positive song about persevering against people who “enjoy crushing your dreams”, and you are back on top in June. Not sure it always turns around that fast.
But there are also times when we choose to soldier on because we don’t learn to do things to help ourselves improve our circumstances, or we are too proud to ask for help that we might need.
Try other “gods”
Other people may have chosen a different path. In their culture, as I mentioned last week, whoever won the battle was presumed to have the stronger god -- so some may have switched to the religion of the powerful Babylonians while they were exiled into their land. I wonder how many times disappointments of life cause us to inappropriately rearrange our priorities. We conclude that just because the choice wasn’t popular or the results weren’t as positive as we hoped, our choice was wrong. Sometimes we can do everything right and still not get what we expect.
I was reading some biographical tidbits from the life of Bob Newhart. He originally studied in Illinois to be a lawyer. He left the field because as he participated in a required internship, they asked him to do things that were not ethical or legal. He then worked as an accountant and clerk but kept having to change jobs because the companies kept asking him to “cook the books”. He struggled economically for a long time before he finally became successful as a comedian. How much easier it would have been to follow the priorities and practices of the culture in which he lived, but he chose to remain faithful.
Learn from experience
And that is the final choice the people had when responding to struggles… These people (Daniel and the three firemen -- (Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego of Daniel 3:8ff) for example) remained faithful; and others returned to God and tried to learn lessons from their disastrous circumstances.
Not every negative thing in life is directly (or indirectly) sin-caused. Nevertheless, today’s text is directed to those who are willing to humble themselves and to seek to learn from God and their life experiences. Hopefully that includes us, for who of us hasn’t fallen short of God’s perfect will and suffered consequences for our errant actions? Or simply experienced setbacks and challenges from which we should hope to learn and grow? Beginning in Deuteronomy 30:9.
The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 30:9-10 (NIV))
This passage is telling us that within or beyond even the most serious situations, we can have a certain hope in God’s compassion, and on the basis of that loving grace -- we know he holds out a promise of redemption and restoration for any who turn or return to him. We cannot undo our past, but we can change our present, and that can lead to a new future…a day of healing and wholeness and blessing. It is a consistent message not only through Deuteronomy but throughout the Bible. What God wants to see in his people is a new heart and new spirit that is characterized by a genuine love expressed as a willingness to follow his will.
The next verses anticipate the objections that to do so is impossible. Beginning in verse 11:
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NIV))
We can’t keep God’s will
The unwritten objection is that God cannot justly blame us for failing to keep the law because, first, it is too hard to keep… It is true that the consistent practice of loving God and our neighbor can be challenging, but God looks at the desire and sincerity of our hearts more than how successful we are. But we shouldn’t lean on “good intentions” as an excuse; proclaiming the theory of love in our hearts while never bothering to practice it. Sincere love will work its way out in words and actions more and more as we grow in Christ.
We can’t know God’s will
The second unwritten objection is that God’s will is impossible to know. Yet to claim ignorance of the Law was not valid for it was in the mouth and heart. Devout Jews memorized and recited the Law throughout their history. God reveals his will to us.
In the pre-sermon reading we heard Paul’s take on this passage -- answering Christians with similar objections. In the context of that passage, he allows that keeping the law was burdensome, especially with what the Pharisees had constructed from it. But Paul says God’s self-revelation is not seen nor fulfilled by some superhuman effort in the Law, or by, as Peterson puts it in The Message, “no precarious climb up to heaven to recruit the Messiah [to bring him close], no dangerous descent into hell to rescue the Messiah [from death by our own efforts]. But it is accomplished by accepting God’s grace in his Son Jesus Christ who is already near to us, and whose life demonstrates what God’s will looks like and who empowers us and shapes our hearts to live and love as we ought, and we’ll see in the next verses that if we choose to do this, God’s promise to us in Christ, like God’s promise to them through Moses and the Law - is that if call on him, turn to him -- we will never be disappointed but will be saved.
And so, in the last verses we are empowered to freely choose or reject God’s offer. Verses 15, 19, and 20 say:
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction… This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life… (Deuteronomy 30: 15,19,20a (NIV))
In the Old Testament, blessings were connected with the land and agricultural / material abundance that flows from it, and with a long life. In this context it is not individual, but national life. The calling of witnesses was a regular practice in antiquity. Normally it was done “before the gods of those making the contract”, but Israel rejected this practice and instead called on all nature was called as a witness. The plea is to choose life -- and choosing life consists of three things.
Love the Lord your God
It sounds so simple. And yet we are so easily distracted... In the popular movie, Robin Hood, The Prince of Thieves; Robin walked up to a young archer aiming at a target and asked, "Can you shoot amid distractions?" Just as the boy shot, Robin tickled his ear with the feathers of an arrow. The boy's shot went high by several feet. After those watching stopped laughing, Maid Marian asked Robin, “Can you?” And just as Robin Hood was about to release his arrow, Maid Marian leaned toward him and flirtatiously blew into his face. The arrow missed the target, glanced off the tree and scarcely missed a bystander. Distractions come in all types, and whether they are painful or pleasant, the result is the same: we miss God's mark, which is the technical definition of sin.
Listen to his voice
People in love don’t get distracted from what or who they love. They want to please the one they love and so they carefully listen so they can do what the other desires. We will listen for and do what God wants because we know it will please him. And as a bonus, we will know it is in our own best interest as well, not only because he loves us, but because he knows our situation better than we do.
Does anyone remember Earl Weaver, the former manager of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team? His rule was that no one attempted to steal a base unless he gave the steal sign. Star Reggie Jackson didn’t like the rule because he felt he knew pitchers and catchers well enough that he knew when he could gain the base. One day he decided to break Weaver’s rule and stole second base. He was easily successful, and he brushed himself off with a self-satisfied smile, thinking he knew more than his manager.
Weaver pulled him aside after the game and explained why he hadn’t given him the sign to steal. The next batter was their best power hitter after Jackson. By stealing second, first base was left open and the other team decided to intentionally walk Lee May, taking the bat out of his hands. Not only that, the next batter was not strong against that pitcher and that forced Weaver to send in a pinch hitter, weakening his bench strength when he might need it later in the game. Sometimes we only see the small picture and think we know what is best for us, but God sees the whole game of life and knows what is best for all of us together.
Hold fast (cleave) to him
So we see that it is best to keep listening and doing what he says. One person lost their life savings in a corrupt business scheme. She went to the Better Business Bureau. They asked why she hadn’t come to them to in-vestigate the company before she invested. She said the deal sounded so good she didn’t want to go the them because she was afraid they might say “No”. Sometimes, we don’t pay attention to God because we are afraid he might say “no” to our plans and desires.
On the other hand, allegedly (I didn’t get time to fact check it - but if not true, it still makes a good methapor). Allegedly, a news crew was covering hurricane Andrew (this would be about 27 years ago) and went to one neighborhood that was completely wiped out except for one home. The owner was cleaning up his front yard. The reporter went to him and asked, “How did your house alone manage to escape all this severe damage?” The man answered, “The Florida state building code is written so homes can withstand a hurricane.” I built this house myself, and I built it according to the code with the proper size trusses and hurricane clips and all the rest. I guess they cut corners on the rest of these homes. (See Matthew 7:24-27 for Jesus’ version of the same idea and applied to the spiritual life). When the sun is shining and the skies are blue, building our lives on something other than the guidelines in God's Word can seem less costly and very tempting. But there's always a potential hurricane coming to our lives. Even if no storm ever comes, it is still best for all that we choose to build our life according to the code of the One who made us and remakes us every day. Choose life.
Closing Prayer Let’s Pray. Lord, we crave to be remade by you. Daily, be it sunny or stormy, encourage us to choose life, to choose love, to choose to listen and obey, to cling to our relationship with you. Open all our senses, that we may better understand and live out what you have put in our hearts and mouths. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 454 Open My Eyes
Closing Blessing Now choosing to build on the solid foundation of God’s will and way, we know that no storm can ever knock us down. So go to live and love and cleave to the covenant relationship God has gracefully established with us. Amen.
July 7, 2019
Bible Reading Luke 4:22-28
Jesus warns us what happens when we become so familiar with our faith in God that we take him for granted, which leads to being surprised and even doubting his good actions…
Everyone there said good things about Jesus. They were amazed to hear him speak such wonderful words. They said, “How is this possible? Isn’t he Joseph’s son?” Jesus said to them, “I know you will tell me the old saying: ‘Doctor, heal yourself.’ You want to say, ‘We heard about the things you did in Capernaum. Do those same things here in your own hometown!’” Then he said, “The truth is, a prophet is not accepted in his own hometown. “During the time of Elijah it did not rain in Israel for three and a half years. There was no food anywhere in the whole country. There were many widows in Israel during that time. But the fact is, Elijah was sent to none of those widows in Israel. He was sent only to a widow in …Sidon. “And there were many people with leprosy living in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha. But none of them were healed; the only one was Naaman. And he was from the country of Syria, not Israel.” (ERV)
Message God Accepts Naaman who enters into Covenant Living 2 Kings 5:1-17,19
We will flesh out just one of Jesus examples about how God has always felt the need to reach out beyond the borders of his own people, that is, beyond his universal love for all of his creation.
2 Kings 5 begins with the story of a foreigner, and not just any foreigner, an enemy who had led successful battles against Israel. We aren’t sure exactly how strong the tensions were between the two nations at the point of this story, but it seems at best there was an uneasy peace.
Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. (2 Kings 5:1) *
The Arameans were an ancient people. The king was Ben-Hadad II, who was later assassinated by Hazael whom Elisha anointed -- an assignment God had given Elijah but never got to it. Aram became the Assyrian Empire, but by Jesus’ day the Romans had shortened it to Syria. (This is why Jesus says Syrian, while in today’s passage, he is Aramean). It is striking theology that in an age where the reach of gods were defined primarily by of geo-political borders, and whichever God was stronger was proved on the battlefield; that the Lord would reach beyond his borders, that he would assign a foreign king to be anointed over a foreign land, and even more that he would grant success to an enemy of God’s people, and even more that some of these battles were granted against God’s people (when punishment for sin doesn’t seem to be the reason). And that this military commander is named a valiant soldier -- a phrase reserved only for Israel’s best soldiers and judges, (such as Gideon and David) and the only Gentile in the Bible to merit such a description.
But sickness also knows no boundaries and he contracted the early stages of a skin disease. Leprosy was a generic term used for all sorts of skin diseases. We know it is in the early stages or he would have already been quarantined from society lest he give the disease to someone else.
Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:2,3)
So here is a captive servant in enemy territory, serving the wife of the enemy military chief. It is hard to wrap our heads around why this girl would act as she did. Maybe she just wanted to prove to him that her God of the Universe is more powerful that the gods of Aram. Or maybe they treated her well, or maybe it was just in her godly nature to care -- but for whatever reason, it took great faith in God’s ability and desire to heal, and great courage from her lowly position to speak about it to her mistress. But she did. She told the wife, who told her husband. She is a wonderful example of faith, and courage. Strive for it.
Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing (2 Kings 5:4,5)
Naaman hears hope and promptly goes to the king and asks permission to go to Israel. The king, probably fearful of losing to disease the commander that had brought so much success to the nation was thrilled at this possibility of hope and wants to clear the way for his commander by a letter to the king. So excited - or desperate - about the prospect he sent with him ample resources to make sure it happens. In today’s terms, almost 2.6 million dollars’ worth.
The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” (2 Kings 5:6,7)
The recommendation letter which the text seems to be sent in terms of sincere genuine hope is received very differently by Joram, (or Jehoram, depending on your translation). There is a play on very similar sounding words emphasizing how Israel’s king went from reading (the letter) to rending (his robes) – on word play we can almost parallel but not quite. It highlight the connection of the reading with the depth of mourning and lament and complaint and in this case – his terror. He read between the lines what wasn’t there and put words and attitude into the printed words of King Ben-Hadad II. A letter of recommendation becomes a threat of war.
Can we give people the benefit of the doubt or do we prefer to believe the worst of everyone and jump to conclusions based on our own perceptions? Has anyone ever read and added between the lines of your conversation, letter, text or email words and attitudes that were never said nor intended? It was also clear that this king had little contact with Elisha and maybe even with God, for the king doesn’t even seem to have thought of the prophet, and his only thought of God was that when push comes to shove with this kind of demand, the king knew he wasn’t God.
When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” (2 Kings 5:8)
In addition to the king not thinking of Elisha, there is some evidence that the prophet was not known, or at least, not welcome, around the palace. Elisha sent a messenger, and Naaman had to be re-routed from the palace out to Elisha’s home in the countryside of Samaria.
It is true that sometimes we expect too much from God -- not that anything can be too much, he can do anything -- but we expect things that God may not choose to want to give us for whatever reason he chooses. On the other hand, sometimes we expect too little from God, as if he was just a really old man who used to have power but is no longer actively working with power and purpose in his world. Therefore, when something is truly needed, we don’t even think of turning to him in our need, and believe it all is truly up to ourselves…
So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” (2 Kings 5:9,10)
Elisha sent a messenger to his king, probably because he wasn’t welcome, but it also could be that by not bothering to come in person to the highest political power in the nation. He could be sending a message to the king that it was God and not Jehoram who was the highest power in the nation, and it is God who is really in control, not only of the nation, but the world.
He did the same for Naaman, even though Naaman had come right to his front door. Elisha was making sure that Naaman would truly humble himself. He could not come as a conquering soldier who felt he had the power, wealth, or status to demand his miracle from this foreign God. In fact, while Naaman may not have realized it, it is made clear to us right off the bat in the first verse, that all of the power, wealth and status was granted only by God’s gracious empowering gifts. Naaman, however, groused over this lack of respect to himself, a visiting dignitary, and what he considered distasteful instructions:
But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana (Ab-aw-naw) and Pharpar (Par-par), the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. (2 Kings 5:11-12)
We often expect that there needs to be something done that is super special - some big fuss on our end - magical words or rituals or motions to earn or force God do what we want. I wonder how often we second guess God’s instructions to us because of our pride, or our preference, or our sense of propriety, or any other reason. Or to think we have a better plan for ourselves than he does for us. All of this needed to be pushed out of Naaman’s mind. And he needed his servants to help him.
Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.” The prophet answered, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused. (2 Kings 5:13-16)
Naaman learned something important. He now understands that Elisha’s God is the true and only God, and that it isn’t wealth, status, position, incantations, or rituals, or any other works that moved God to action. It was nothing but God’s gracious acceptance of himself, and his trusting obedience to his instructions as given through Elijah. We too need to immerse ourselves in the cleansing, healing power of God's love and to put ourselves completely in tune with the rhythms of his healing waters through our faithful obedience to him.
And in this case with this foreigner, just to make sure the story doesn’t get turned around after the fact. The retelling of stories can easily get twisted. In this case, that Namaan, instead of giving gifts of gratefulness and commitment, that he paid for his healing; or because he gave gifts, this powerful healing God was now beholden to Naaman, as if he could be bought or owned. Elisha refused any gift to prevent any such misunderstandings. It was not Elisha, Naaman, nor anyone else that created or caused this miracle -- none but God alone.
“If you will not, [accept a gift] ” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord... “Go in peace,” Elisha said. (2 Kings 5:17,19)
So Naaman wants some Israeli dirt -- remember how I said gods were associated with the land? Since he would be returning to Syria, he wanted some land of Israel to better worship the God of Israel. He may have been very literal in thinking “there is no God in all the earth but in Israel(‘s) earth.” (as if God were literally in the dirt and so he wanted some). However you explain his thinking, it sounds kind of silly, not only to us, but according to one commentator, it was meant to sound silly even then. It is likened to Jonah’s response to the sailors on the stormy sea. “I am running away from my God who created all the heavens and the earth and is everywhere.” How do you escape that presence? And how do you contain God in some soil? The idea is to make us laugh, and then to challenge us who are laughing -- Is the story about God’s acceptance and conversion of foreign, pagan Syrians (or Ninevites)? Or to confront the entrenched attitudes of God’s people who feel they exclusively possess God rather than God possessing them?
Naaman promises that he would never give any heart-felt worship and sacrifices except to the Lord of Elisha and Israel. You might say he entered into a covenant relationship -- an exclusive commitment to the one true God - a commitment to which he promised worship and obedience, and from which he receives God’s Lordship based solely on God’s gracious acceptance of him.
All of this is made possible because a brave young servant who was hauled away to a foreign land to serve a powerful foreign enemy -- decided to have the faith and courage to speak of God’s power to her superiors when the king himself had lost his way…
Like the king, are we stuck in favoring only our land, our people, our preferences, our expectations while forgetting God and his love for all creation? Do we think it is all up to us, or can we learn to rely on God and his faithful to usher in God’s will?
Like the servant girl, are we bold in sharing God’s possibilities to others? And confident that God will do -- not our expectations, but that he will accomplish his purposes?
Like Naaman, are we able to swallow our pride in human power and wealth and status and humble ourselves to do whatever God wants to do with whomever and however he wants to do it? Can we obediently immerse ourselves in his will and his way? Can we understand that no matter how much we do or give or serve -- God will never be indebted to us? Our relationship with him and gifts from him are always based entirely on his gracious acceptance of ourselves and others -- and we promise to serve him in response to all he has already committed to be for us.
* All texts are NIV unless otherwise indicated
Pastor Chuck Williams
Regular Office Hours
Pastor: Monday, Wednesday, Friday 9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Grace United Methodist Church
201 Isle Royale Street
Houghton, MI 49931