February 17, 2019
Bible Reading Psalm 1:1-3
The Series themes have focused on how God has called communities and individuals to living for God and serving his mission. Today’s focus helps us see how to stay in tune with God’s call on our lives. The Psalmist writes:
Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners
or join those who have no use for God. Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord, and
they study it day and night. They are like trees that grow beside a stream, that bear fruit at the
right time, and whose leaves do not dry up. They succeed in everything they do. (GNT)
Message Called to Abide in Him Jeremiah 17:5-8, John 15:1-8
Jeremiah may well have this Psalm in mind when he wrote this short personal confession and affirmation poem in Jeremiah 17 about the bush and the tree. By extension, it applies to all of us who are in a covenant relationship with God. In honor of last night’s banquet, (those who were there will know what I mean), I will throw this in: “What did the tree say to the flower?” “I am rooting for you!” When we are blossoming as God’s people, our only source of nourishment and strength for faithful living is God. The Old Testament often uses the phrase “the arm of the Lord” to represent God’s strength, and on that strength we always can and should rely.
This is what the Lord says: “Bad things will happen to those who put their trust in people… who depend on human strength. That is because they have stopped trusting the Lord. (Jeremiah 17:5 (ERV))
But sometimes God’s people reject his authority and relationship with God and choose to depend on human strength instead. Jeremiah’s phrase literally means “sets as his arm” (so, “sets as his strength”) Jeremiah is saying they were setting their strength on humanity instead of on God’s reliable strength). Jeremiah is making it clear that he is not talking about the proper use of human energy, but a reliance on human ability that should be reserved only for God’s empowering energy. And when this happens, God’s people suffer the consequences of their choices
They are like a bush in a desert where no one lives. It is in a hot and dry land. It is in bad soil. That bush does not know about the good things that God can give. (Jeremiah 17:6 (ERV))
and they become a lonely shrub in a parched, sunbaked, rocky, salt-soiled desert. Such shrubs don’t even notice when good refreshing rain comes. They remain dry and useless. Jeremiah may well have been reflecting on his own past experience when he felt abandoned, his spirit dried out, brittle and bitter. I think most of us who are at least my age have felt that at some point in their life. He had written a very different tree poem to God in the middle of those times.
“Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why do dishonest people succeed? [Why do all the faithless live at ease?] You plant them, and they take root; they grow and bear fruit. They always speak well of you, yet they do not really care about you.” (Jeremiah 12:1b-2 (GNT [NIV]))
In his unending pain, incurable grief, and insatiable thirst, Jeremiah eventually accuses God of appearing like a refreshing, healing stream but he isn’t. He has dried up in the summer heat. (Jeremiah 15:18) And yet it is good to throw things on the prayer table with God. It allows God to work with us. God worked with Jeremiah, assuring him he is not forsaken. He felt that way because he chose to give in to peer pressure and give up to the strength of his opponents rather than continuing to trust and lean on God alone. God calls him to turn from his fearful despair. (Jeremiah 15:19-21) Jeremiah does and is revived from his dry period and restored as God’s servant and spokesperson. He writes today’s poem reflecting on the results of his renewed trust in God’s strength.
“But those who trust in the Lord will be blessed. They know that the Lord will do what he says. They will be strong like trees planted near a stream that send out roots to the water.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8a (ERV))
When we put our confidence in God alone, then no matter what pressures and circumstances may come, we need not cower but will eagerly do what God wants. Our spirits will flourish no matter how dry and barren our surroundings, our circumstances. Psalm 1 plants us by the streams, most English translations of Jeremiah say we send out or spread out our roots toward water -- but the verb form is aggressive, actively and forcibly pushing out our roots in an intense and vigorous action toward the stream.
“They have nothing to fear when the days get hot. Their leaves are always green. They never worry, even in a year that has no rain. They always produce fruit. (Jeremiah 17:8b (ERV))
Even when opponents turn up the heat, even when circumstances are dry and barren, both the disobedient shrub and faithful tree remain unaffected by drought or rain. The disobedient shrub doesn’t worry because, rain or shine, it is already dried dead. And the trusting tree doesn’t worry because God’s water nourishes in season and out. (See Matthew 6:25 ff)
The tree imagery is common in Old Testament and Jewish thought, and in John, Jesus has pulled from a variety of these images and weaved it into a unique mashal (mawshawl). A mashal is an authoritative teaching that uses easily memorable comparisons, parables, proverbs, riddles, allegories and the like to give practical wisdom and reveal life’s highest values. In Hebrew thought, this wisdom centered around the life in God.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…. “I am the vine; you are the branches. (John 15:1,5 (NIV))
Jesus’ teaching on the vine is not unlike Paul’s imagery of “the church is made up of many members but together make up the body of Christ and find their source of life in the one Father, one Lord, and one Spirit. (See 1 Corinthians 12) Paul stresses the variety of the many members, while Jesus’ prioritizes the connection of the many branches to himself, the vine. Relationships are so important that they keep breaking through the imagery of body and plant. It is not written as, “here is the metaphor, here is the meaning of it.” The meaning of the relationships keep popping through – so strong that some of Jesus’ gardening vocabulary describe the human relationships better than they do gardening.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8 (NIV))
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…. “I am the vine; you are the branches. (John 15:1,5)
Jesus begins with us already in connection with him. He mentions the Father to show the divine kind of vine that he is, and therefore the kind of quality of life we have in him. If you aren’t in connection and want to be -- believe what God has done for you in Jesus, who by dying on the cross, demonstrates God’s forgiving love; and upon our sincere confession, takes away the penalty and guilt (but not always the consequences) of our sin (sin: falling short of God’s glory, his will). He also showed us how to turn away from that old lifestyle and to live a new lifestyle that strives to know and follow God’s will in all things at all times, trusting that as the strength of that union deepens, we will become more fruitful, we are made more and more human as humanity is meant to be.
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, …No branch can bear fruit by itself … Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me... apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; … picked up… and burned.
(John 15:2a,4b,d,5c, 6 (NIV) (emphasis added)))
In the Middle east vineyard, February and March is the time (We don’t even have the snow off of the ground yet, but this is the time) that they go through all the fields and begin to cut back all non-fruit bearing branches. They cut them back so much that when you look at the field - the stalks are about all that is left.
You need to understand that John writes in black and white dualism. You can’t be a little bit pregnant, you are, or you aren’t. You are in love with and living in the heavenly kingdom and its values, or you are in love with and living in the world and its values (that are opposed to God). There is nothing in-between. You live in love, or you live in hate. You walk in light, or you stumble along blindly in darkness. You are a productive, fruit bearing branch, or you are dead; and if you are dead you are removed so that there is room and energy for branches that will live and produce fruit. That is a grim thought, isn’t it? But this is not the emphasis of the mashal. The stress, like Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17, is that flourishing happens only if we do not rely on (or fear) human strength, but completely depend on the Lord. It is a recurring theme in John, as a matter of fact. In John 1:3, he wrote that apart from Jesus, nothing came into existence. And here, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. This phrase played an important role as the early church developed its understanding between grace and good deeds. Paul expressed the idea in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6a, where he said, Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient…
…while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. (John 15:2b,3)
So, we go back to the vineyard to find out how God does that. By August, leaves have begun to grow on the stalks. The gardener walks through and pinches off little side sprouts so that the main fruit-bearing branches get all the nourishment. Sometimes branches grow so low to the ground that they get covered in mud. The gardener, if they have the potential of being good branches, will wash them off and lift them up so that they can grow and produce properly.
This cleansing and trimming is neither a one-time thing nor an end in itself. Jesus not only prunes sin out of our life, but anything that gets in the way of bearing even more fruit (See also Hebrews 12:1). You know the old saying, “we do so much good, we can’t do the best”. (That’s not quite the saying, but it conveys the meaning). One person described this ever-increasing growth as growing in love with God which binds the Christian to Jesus and spreads life to others. This is accomplished not by what we do for God, but by what Jesus (and his word) does within and through us.
Remain in me, as I also remain in you [as a branch] must remain in the vine. (John 15:4a,b (NIV))
And God can only accomplish this greater fruit-bearing purpose in us if we are willing to respond to his work in us by remaining in him and he in us. These are the sides on one coin. There are not two relationships, this remaining is both sides of one mutual relationship. We remain in him and he in us. We remain in Jesus by trusting, obedient faith, and Jesus remains in us through love and fruitfulness. And did you notice which side is responsible for the fruit bearing? It is not us, it is him.
… be even more fruitful. If you remain in me and I (and my words remain) in you, you will bear much fruit… ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourself to be my disciples. (John 15:2b,5b7-8 NIV))
It is not our job to bear fruit, but Jesus bears fruit in and through us as we remain in relationship with him. We are told simply, to cling to the vine, (or in Jeremiah and the Psalm, “cling to the water”); to remain in harmony with Jesus and his teachings.
It is only within this context that we can ask anything we want, and it will be done. Some teachers lift the phrase out of context, “ask anything you want, and it will be done for you” – no qualifications at all. They ignore that almost every other time John quotes this phrase it is qualified by asking “in Jesus name”. Here, it is not deemed necessary because if you are remaining in him, it is implied that the request is already “in his name”. And if these teachers do acknowledge the phrase, they treat it like a magical formula you tack on to the end of the prayer and if you do you will automatically get whatever you say in the prayer, like a magician says, “abraca-presto” and there it is! It doesn’t work that way. Jesus is not a signatory of God’s prayer bank that lets us say anything and receive it. It has to be in his will and by his authority – what he wants to happen.
In this text, the nature of the requests involves growth in the Christian life for the purpose of bearing fruit and bringing glory to God. We do not bear fruit in order to become a disciple (a follower of Christ and his ways). We become disciples when we are hooked to the vine. The fruit comes naturally out of that. We are already his disciples attached to the vine and Christ bears his fruit through us as he nourishes us and it changes our life. The fruit simply bears – reveals – what kind of branch we are. What kind of branch we are, if we remain connected to the vine, will be that we are striving to stay in relationship with Jesus, becoming more like him, and by continuing his mission in the world. So, through a series of questions, let’s apply to our life what the Psalmist, Jeremiah, and Jesus are teaching us so that we may thrive in this life.
1) Do we trust in our own ability to be fruitful, or do we trust in and cooperate with the Lord to work through us?
2) Do we aggressively reach for God’s water/vine? (remain in him) The Psalmist talks about meditating day and night on God and his will. How often is he in the forefront of our thoughts, how often do we reach for him in study and prayer? How often do we seek his instruction before making a decision?
3) Is our connection strong and growing? How can we increase that connection? How do I remain/sustain my relationship in Jesus and improve and increase it? If I were to ask how you do this, I know what some of the answers you give would be because they are good answers and we hear them often. Bible, prayer, church, bible studies, topical studies, music, devotional books, films, there are probably many more that you would name. But these give you an idea. There are a wide variety of things that can get us into a place where God can draw close to us and we to him. Work at it like you work at work, work at it like you work at your recreation, work at it like you work at your studies…
4) What in our life must be cut off/pruned/trimmed to make our lives more productive? As I already said, so often it is not so much that we are doing things that are wrong as we are doing good things that keep us from the best things. What do we need to get out of our way so that we can pursue God more passionately?
5) And lastly, Are my requests of God sound? A dangerous question -- some people think any request about their own lives is “selfish” and inappropriate and that is not true. The Bible is full of saints making appropriate requests about their own lives. I hinted at it with Jeremiah, though -- his complaint before God was completely --- misinformed? (saying God looked refreshing but wasn’t, and that God prospers the wicked) -- but putting it on the table allowed God to deal with him on the topic. It is never wrong to tell God how we feel or what we want -- what is wrong is to not being open to God guiding us to a new attitude, and a willingness to admit that maybe we are wrong and not God, (or others), a humble acceptance of what God may be trying to accomplish in us or in others by our lives – even though the circumstances may not be prosperous by our measure of the word. Are we grounded? He is rooting for you, you know -- to flourish.
Closing Prayer Let’s pray. Lord, it is easy for us who are sensitive to feel guilt and fear from a text like this -- to feel we are never doing enough and fearing we are about to be cut off from your grace and love. Remind us that this fear is based in human strength and often measured by cultural standards of success rather than on faithfully clinging to you and responding to you day in and day out and allowing you to grow the kind of fruit through us that you choose rather than what we imagine... Help us to find the peace the comes from leaning on and leaving in your everlasting arms the results of our life as we faithfully and diligently find the joy of trusting and obeying. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 133 Leaning on the...Arms
Closing Blessing Now as we go, may we be strengthened, comforted, and inspired to live lives worthy of God, who calls us into his kingdom and glory. Amen.
February 10, 2019
Bible Reading Luke 5:5-11
People were pressing around Jesus to hear his teaching while he stood on the shore of the Galilean Lake. Fisherman were cleaning their nets by their two boats. Jesus sat in the one that belonged to Simon and asked him to push off a little from the shore. From that natural amplification system, he taught the people. When he finished, he told Simon to go out into deep water to catch some fish.
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (NIV)
Message Luke 5:1-11, Isaiah 6:1-13
Called to Overcome Misunderstandings and Called to Catch People
If you were here last week, you remember Jesus was ultimately not so well received in his hometown and headed on down to Simon (later named Peter)’s hometown, Capernaum. There, the people were amazed at his authoritative synagogue teaching, as well as his ability to heal people from demon and disease. After one dramatic healing in the synagogue, Jesus went the home of Simon, whose mother-in-law was there and suffering from an energy-draining high fever. Jesus healed her. He began to travel and teach in all the synagogues of Judea. Word about him spread throughout the region. Simon already knew Jesus when he came to the shore that day -- and was probably not the first time Jesus met these fishermen on the shore. Some conjecture that the similar stories in Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20 were an earlier visit to the shore -- and that they dropped everything and followed, but not as a permanent full-time vocation. They still returned to their fishing careers at least part of the time. It is not critical if that is right or not, but if so, then those calls were preparatory calls – Jesus working ahead of time leading to today’s “final call” that changed their careers and lives.
It is not easy to take in the beauty of the place. The Sea of Galilee is 7 miles widen 13 miles long, 600 feet below sea level, which means it was surrounded by beautiful hills and mountains. In those days, the lake was nearly surrounded by busy towns and villages with an active fish trade.
Jesus attracted a crowd when he went to the shore that morning. He finished teaching from Simon’s boat. He asked the fisherman, who had been cleaning their nets after an unsuccessful night of fishing, to go out and fish. I’m not a fishing person, and especially not in that part of the world, but I read that fishing with nets during the dark night was the best time to catch fish and fishing during the morning when sun was glistening on the surface of the water was a waste of time. Simon and his business partners were already exhausted from their long, unsuccessful night shift. This was their field of expertise, they knew what was right for fishing in that sea. But out of respect for Jesus, they (probably) humored him, and decided to go out into deep water as he had asked (likely expecting to catch next to nothing). To their shock and surprise, they caught so many fish they had to call for help.
It was then that the real impact of who Jesus was began to sink in. They wouldn’t get the full implications on this day (they didn’t even get the full implications until he went back into heaven after the resurrection), but they were beginning to grasp that he was much more than just a powerful teaching, healing, traveling rabbi. Before the fishing trip, Simon addresses him “Master”, (meaning Teacher, Rabbi, or in our day, “Sir”. Someone whose words are wise, respected, and usually followed. After the catch -- after Jesus shows his power in their area of life, Simon impulsively falls at Jesus’ knees and calls him “Lord”, which in this context, the word means he is filled with reverential awe, knowing he is in the presence of someone special – the presence of God. Like others who found themselves in the presence of divine holiness, Simon becomes very aware of his own spiritual shortcomings -- and utters a phrase similar to Job and Isaiah. (Job 42:5-6, Isaiah 6:5) and these phrases reference the Old Testament belief that being in God’s holy presence is a life-threatening place to be (Exodus 33:20, Deuteronomy 5:26).
He asked Jesus to go away but he does not. Instead he reassures Peter in a way that only a fisherman could be reassured, “Don’t be afraid, I will make you a fisher of people.” In current language, that would be “Simon, you don’t need to feel spiritually lost or a failure, I can disciple you, teach you, to live as a faithful follower and you will be as comfortable in that role as you are in your professional fishing role.” This is the tipping point that moved Simon’s faith from a casual and occasional acquaintance with Jesus to building his life around a new priority. The humongous catch revealed who Jesus was, but it also had a practical side effect. It provided for their families so they could feel more free to change vocations and begin to follow Jesus full time – because of the provision Jesus was giving them.
Simon’s experience has some parallels with the prophet Isaiah. Unlike most prophets, whose story begins with God’s call on their life, Isaiah has already been be speaking for God, saying the nation had turned its back on God and because they refused to repent, they would face judgment. And then the king died, and his son took the throne. The father was a good king, mostly, and the son was a good king. But it raised the question in everybody’s mind. With this pending judgment, with a new king, a new regime, would this be enough to turn the nation around and God will not destroy us after all?
Like Simon, there came a crisis point where God needed Isaiah to be “all in”, and so he ushers the prophet into this heavenly vision. I’ll read the verses (from Isaiah 6:1ff (all NIV)) which is in bold italicized print, and make comments in-between.
In the year the King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord… That puts Isaiah in the very limited company of humans who see God face to face and live. I saw the Lord high and exalted, seated on a throne, and the train of his robe filled the (heavenly) temple. God’s glorious presence fills - dominates the scene. Above him were seraphim elsewhere called sons of God, heavenly hosts, cherubs, messengers, angels; but only here are they described this way: each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces in respectful submission to God’s glory, with two they covered their feet let’s call that a sign of modesty, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” or literally, “the fullness of the earth is his glory”. Not only is his glory everywhere on earth, he created the earth so great and grand that that fullness reveals who he is. Holiness describes God’s innermost nature -- perfect, pure and entirely other than what is created; while glory describes his decisions and works through which he becomes known.
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. That imagery is vastly different that Simon’s experience on the Sea of Galilee with his bountiful reception of fish. The message to Simon was a reassurance of provision and an opportunity to follow God through Christ. The message to Isaiah feels terrifyingly ominous. The context is affirming God’s irreversible decision of Israel’s destruction, new king or not. But these encounters are also alike -- they both give Simon and Isaiah insight into the overwhelming imminent presence and holy character of God - so where Simon says, “Go away, Lord, I am a sinner.” Isaiah says, “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! The first phrase is one connected with funerals and Isaiah is basically saying, “I’m a dead man”. The second phrase has been translated as ruined, undone, lost - the word technically means “silent” -- Isaiah wants to join the praise of these angels who are surrounding the throne, but he realizes who he is and what he is and he doesn’t speak, For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, that is, he as a sinner in a nation of sinners, and has no right to say anything in the presence of the holy One in the holy Temple in the heavens. and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” He is amazed his is still alive, much less able to speak, but he doesn’t dare speak.
Simon is assured of forgiveness with the encouraging words of Jesus, while Isaiah’s sin problem is addressed by an angel. Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and you sin atoned for.” This action represented the sacrifices needed to enter the Temple, that is, metaphorically, to enter into God’s presence. Isaiah is now safe, and safe to speak in God’s presence, Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” to deliver God’s message -- in this case -- the decision to destroy the nation of Israel. This question, asked in the heavenly temple, is (except here in Isaiah) always answered by a member of heaven’s court. It is an angel or spirit that says they will go and then they go and do it. (See 1 Kings 22:19 ff, for example).
But like Simon, who with sins forgiven and the confidence of provision, is prepared to leave his fishing business behind and follow Jesus, Isaiah also jumps at the chance to serve, And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
And God accepts the offer. He said, “Go and tell this people: (and the tense is one of continuation – “keep on going and keep on telling the covenant people…” “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
Simon’s new full-time job is going to start out much more palatable than Isaiah’s. Simon is going to catch people while Isaiah might as well be talking to the wall in an empty room. This idea runs throughout the first 40 chapters of Isaiah, saying the people are (by choice) blind and deaf to God’s message, and some translate this passage that way too. The translation I read puts a little more emphasis on the messenger “making them that way” (because God’s decision is mad made final and he doesn’t want repentance to get in the way). Don’t get hung up on that.
The critical idea is that the people had been given every opportunity to see and hear God’s message and understand their sinfulness, (like Isaiah and Simon did) which would cause most people to wake up, repent (change, be healed, and start a new direction) (like Isaiah and Simon did). But not these people. They had hardened their hearts and calloused their spirits and so engrained their evil patterns as normal for so long that they passed a point of no return. It was too late to change, too late to save themselves or their nation from their wandering ways. Prophets of this era were called to speak, but successful repentance was not a part of their commission. Past the point of repentance, the message is simply a warning of what is going to happen and not a call to turn, because it is too late to turn.
And then I’ll just sum verses 11-13. Isaiah persists in the details of the message for the sake of future generations and asks, “How long (do I give this glum message of judgment -- is it temporary or is permanent)?” The Lord answers, “Until the cities are vacant, the fields are in ruins and everyone is sent far away.” And then there is an implied question (not actually stated) by the prophet about the distant future -- “If a remnant of people survive, will they ever be able to return and rebuild?” And the answer that is given in this text is that their lives will have this important continuing role: of being like a funeral monument - reminding future generations of a nation that is now dead and why it was destroyed. In other words, at this point, while a return is not denied, for now, the message is to be utter destruction for generations to come and will only survive as a warning sign to future generations. And in fact, Judah, the southern kingdom returned under the authority of Persia. But the people today’s message is directed at -- the northern kingdom, Israel, never received any official permission to return…
Now. We do not have Assyrians or Babylonians or Persians breathing down our neck. If we traveled across the world to the Sea of Galilee, where we may expect something special, but would probably not expect that Jesus would approach us and ask us to drop everything and follow him. Contexts change. Isaiah sought but didn’t a word for future generations, in this particular text – people who would read it and look back and wonder, “What does that mean for us?” But that is a good question for us to ask as well. “What does all this mean for us?” So let’s answer in the from of questions.
1) Are we open to an ongoing shaping of our lives? These encounters of Isaiah and Simon were not the first, nor the last special events in Isaiah or Simon’s life. God prepared them for this point and continued to work and shape, and build their lives after that point. Are we willing to let God shape us day by day?
2) What is our attitude when we enter God’s presence? In our devotional life, our prayer life, our worship life. Whether it was Simon’s joyful celebration of God’s abundance, or Isaiah’s being deeply troubled by a gloomy present and future, both experienced a combination of holy reverence with a keen awareness of their human limitations – how do we approach God?
3) Do we allow God to deal with our failings? Confession of who we are and what we’ve done is a start. Accepting his forgiveness and a willingness to let him reassure us that whatever is in our past, it is not too late to change and adjust our lives -- for we are deeply loved and God’s covenant commitment to us offered through Christ does not go away. The fact that we are here in this room means we haven’t hardened our hearts too far. And I believe most of us have extremely soft hearts, eagerly desiring to do what God wants us to do for him. So allow him to encourage and teach and shape us as a continuing process - and know that he can make us as comfortable in our new adventurous life of the Christian way as we were comfortable in our old familiar patterns.
4) Are we willing to make ourselves available for God’s mission through us? Isaiah said, “Here I am, send me”. Simon left everything - changed careers and followed. I can’t say what God’s mission for you might be. I suspect his mission, your call, will be based on the needs that surround the circles of your life in which you “travel” (the people you encounter on a regular basis at home, school, work, recreation, social life or other routines you may have) In those contacts you will notice certain needs, and they will be combined with the gifts and graces you are given to be a part (with others) of helping bring solutions to those needs.
5) Are we willing to reorient our lives and make God central? For Isaiah, it was a continuation of what he was already doing. For Simon, it was a complete overhaul of his life’s direction. For both, it required an “all-in” commitment. Like I said last week, all God wants of you is all of you. And in heeding (listening and following through) with his daily call and direction, we will, perhaps not in the moment, but in God’s time, we will experience more joy and fulfillment than any other avenue of life, for God knows what it is that makes us the best us we can be, and when we will feel the best about ourselves when we are doing our best at what we are best at. And we can find peace -- even during dark days. Let’s pray.
Closing Prayer Heavenly Father, even in restless days, perhaps especially during restless days, your call comes to us. It seems our lives are always busy, scrambling from one thing to the next -- so caught up in our agendas that we fail to stop and see what is going on around us and how we can participate in your mission and message. Reshape our hearts that we may more easily hear you over the cares that weigh us down and the pleasures that pursue us to distraction. Then, perhaps, we may learn to love you more, accept ourselves, and serve you through serving others and bring glory to your holy name. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 398 (vv 1,2,4) Jesus Calls Us
Closing Blessing Now as we go, may we be strengthened, comforted, and inspired to live lives worthy of God, who calls us into his kingdom and glory. Amen.
February 3, 2019
We are still in the Epiphany Season, which celebrates Christ’s light coming to all people of the world. Yesterday celebrated the specific feast day called Presentation of the Lord, when Joseph and Mary brought 40-day-old Jesus to the Temple, an offering given as a sign of dedicating their child to God. On the way in to the Temple, a prophet Simeon and Prophetess Anna both saw him and talked about the great salvation he was going to bring to all people.
For a little over 50 years, there is a uniquely American festival that is happening today. Do you know what that is? [Super-bowl] That's right. Two teams are going to try and win the last game of the football season.
Usually the teams have some star players, and they really count on them to help win the game. (and sometimes they wear black and white stripes). But usually they are the quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers. But how good and important do you think the quarterback would be if the offensive line didn’t protect him or the receivers always dropped the passes? Or how good would the running back be if the line and receivers didn’t block for them? Or what if quarterback never threw the ball so the receivers could catch them? They wouldn’t get very far down the field, would they, much less score or win the game. And how good would they stop the other team if everyone on the defense didn’t cooperate (work together) to do their job?
Sometimes, players get to thinking they don't need anyone else to win, while other people don't think they are important enough to be on the team. But that isn’t how it is with Jesus. Everyone is important to him. The prophets said wonderful things about what the star Jesus was going to do. Yet he still chose not to do it alone but to surround himself with a team to advance the news of God’s salvation forward into the world. And now he has chosen us too. He thinks each one of you is an important part of his kingdom team.
Paul describes this team as a body and says, “Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27) Sometimes I think I’d be better off without my knee and hip when they ache -- but life would be much harder if I didn’t have them. I wouldn’t be able to get around very easily.
It doesn’t mean we can’t do anything on our own, but when we rely on each other and work together we become an important part of his team and as you know -- the popular phrase is that there is “No “I” in team”, but did you know that TEAM stands for “TOGETHER EVERYONE ACHIEVES MORE?”
Prayer: Dear Lord, we thank you that when we feel all alone and unable to do what we think is pleasing to you. Thank you that you have given us each other to rely on, and that together, we make up your mighty team where all things are possible. Help us all to be the best team player we can be for your kingdom. Amen. Hand out ROLOS candies -- Kind of look like playing pieces -- you know like Xs and Os on the chalkboard -- but since we are all on the same team -- they are all Os.
Bible Reading Luke 4:23-29
Last week Jesus began his ministry and had become popular in Galilee, including Capernaum. He returned home for the first time, where he did few miracles. Then he taught in the Synagogue that in him were fulfilled Isaiah’s words of a Messianic age ushering in salvation from sin and worldwide peace. They were impressed, but they also knew him as Joseph’s son, an ordinary man. Jesus heard or sensed their skepticism and so in Luke 4,
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. (NIV)
Message Luke 4:21-30, Jeremiah 1:4-10
Called to our Future Despite Others’ Doubts or our Own
The town of Nazareth is tucked up in a hollow, high against the slopes of a mountain which rose higher on three sides of the town, so they had plenty of options from where to throw Jesus to his death. But to relieve you of the suspense. Jesus (perhaps miraculously) walks away from the crowd unscathed and went to Capernaum to resume his ministry.
God, Prove Yourself
Jesus had just impressed the Nazarene synagogue members with his presentation, but not the content of promising that he himself was going to bring deliverance and healing to those damaged by sin and usher us into a new age in God’s kingdom. It sounded good, but the Nazarenes had watched him grow up and they had their doubts he could rise to that kind of greatness. One disciple expressed it, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46) Maybe that was their self-image too. Jesus puts their thoughts into the words of a parable. “Physician, heal yourself.” Meaning, “Jesus, you struggled against poverty and the difficult conditions of Nazareth just like the rest of us. Prove you have risen above it (and therefore can lift us from our daily struggles). And, prove it by doing the kind of miracles we heard you did Capernaum.”
My motivations for my requests are…
This demand was not seeking God’s compassionate help, gracious salvation, or timely rescue and intervention -- they were simply seeking proof of power. God doesn’t submit to tests of his existence or power or love.
Instead, Jesus answers the parable with another well-known saying -- that for a variety of reasons, exceptional people are not recognized as such by those who know them best. He illustrates with two Old Testament prophets who were also seen skeptically by their contemporaries. The prophets were therefore sent not to their own people but to foreigners who would recognize their greatness. Jesus is warning the Nazarene synagogue members (and us?) that if they did not accept him as God’s chosen Messiah, he too would be sent to outsiders.
Jesus’ claim to be God’s anointed, (for now) only nagged the Nazarenes with doubts. The idea that God’s grace and salvation could be diverted to people they considered not religious and therefore despised --- this enraged them to what they considered a justifiable murder. This blood thirsty hate was shared by the synagogue leaders in Pisidian Antioch and in Jerusalem against Paul when gave the same warning about their rejection of Christ leading to God’s salvation being offered to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:45-47 ff, 22:21-22)
Jesus had no doubt who he was -- or that he was going to bring God’s salvation to the world. His challenge was overcoming the doubts of religious leaders -- a conflict which eventually led to his death.
Jeremiah: Challenges - Scope of Mission
The prophet Jeremiah would face similar challenges. Jeremiah too, in service of a global Creator, recognized that his scope would be wide -- pronouncing God’s word without compromise, even when it was uncomfortable and dangerous, telling King Zedekiah that he would be handed over (exiled) to the Babylonian king (Jeremiah 37:16-17; 38:14-18) and speaking God’s determinations about the rise and fall of great threatening nations like Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt, but even the small nations surrounding nations who had a long history of violent activity against Israel. (Jeremiah 1:10),
Doubted by others
and if that wasn’t enough, add to it the religious leaders and prophets who had their doubts and stirred up doubts in the crowds about Jeremiah’s message by offering an alternate message, just as they did in the days of Jesus and Paul. All this together and more added up to a formidable task for young Jeremiah and may have stirred up self-doubts within the young prophet.
In fact, the opposition and pressures of his position would lead him into dark times in which he was, at times, overcome by despair (See Jeremiah 20:7-18), (Some believe he wrote the book of Lamentations).
“Alas, Sovereign Lord… I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” (Jeremiah 1:6)
Doubt of self - Declines call
Not surprisingly, Jeremiah hesitated, saying he lacked training and experience as a speaker, and that he was too young. The good news is that human inadequacy and inexperience give space for divine equipping. Paul argued that God’s grace was sufficient, and his power is all the more obvious in those who are weak. Therefore, Paul boasts and delights in weaknesses, in insults, persecutions, hardships and difficulties, because when he is weak, then he is strong, because Christ’s power would rest on him. (See 2 Corinthians 12:9-11)
Call of Assurances
Jeremiah needed a call so strong that it would reassure and sustain his faith in God and God’s mission during dark, difficult days. In the first half of my ministry, it seemed like every clergy gathering I attended, we were asked to break into groups and share our call with each other. There seemed to be an understanding that at some point in most of our ministries, we would probably need to have our calls strongly engrained in the forefront and foundation of our memory if we were going to make it through. And Jeremiah faced much worse than we would ever experience.
This call (like many prophets) is a dialog between Jeremiah and God. It is strikingly familiar with the call of Moses, sending a meta message that Jeremiah authentically stands in the succession of Moses - an assurance that both he and his hearers needed. Hear the assurances of the call:
The word of the Lord came to me, saying, (Jeremiah 1:4)
Direct word from God
The “word” is not just words. For them, what a person thinks, plans, says and does are all part of the same “word” the same experience. Jeremiah’s experienced the whole intent of God’s message, giving him confidence to speak and act (symbolically) in declaring that word.
“Before I formed you in the womb… (Jeremiah 1:5)
Destined before birth
God’s destiny and purpose for Jeremiah was set. Remembering this in dark, desperate days may not have given Jeremiah comfort, but it probably helped against second guessing himself based on his dreary circumstances. Much like Jesus knew his destiny was to die for the world. It still gave him a sorrow that he’d rather not experience (as we know from the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36 ff)), but knowing it was his destiny also gave him the courage to boldly move forward and face it anyway.
“…I knew you.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
To know that we are known by God -- not just intellectually -- but intimately -- God doesn’t just know about Jeremiah, he has a deep personal, unwavering commitment to him…
“Before you were born, I set you apart;” (Jeremiah 1:5)
God set Jeremiah apart for God’s exclusive use. We often use the word consecrated -- something dedicated only for sacred use (thus altar candles are never used for anything other than altar candles). Jeremiah himself used this phrase of the nation, often translated as “holy” -- the nation is set apart for God, and Jeremiah is an individual set apart for God’s service as well.
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
God authorizes Jeremiah to represent him, to be his voice to the world -- since God’s sovereign scope is not limited, neither will be the prophet’s declarations be limited.
[Jeremiah says], “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever
I command you. (Jeremiah 1:6-7)
Jeremiah belongs to God and so Jeremiah has no choice. He must go anywhere to anyone and everyone and say and do whatever God tells him to say and do. The call’s description is all-encompassing, but vague. It seems scary, but it is an assurance because with every order God gives, God is also going with him.
“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
(as he rescued the nation from Egypt, as he rescued David from the bear and the lion, and as the temple songs sing about “rescue” in ways that went far deeper into the soul than physical circumstances.
Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth…” (Jeremiah 1:9)
This is almost a direct quote from Deuteronomy 18:18 where God says he will raise up from among the people a prophet like [Moses] and God will put his words in that prophet’s mouth, and that prophet will tell them everything God commands. This imagery is also in Isaiah and Ezekiel -- and it is a powerful expression of God’s commitment to be personally involved and connected with everything that the prophet would be asked to do.
In Jesus, Jeremiah and even Paul, as well as many others; God’s involvement covered the whole of their life – their family, their experiences, their training, those who influenced them, their grasp of cultural movements – all their past, bad or good, shaped them and prepared them for their service to God. Jesus’ call, Jeremiah’s call, these are not our calls – he has not called us to be a Messiah or to physically die on a cross, nor has he probably called on many of us to predict to world leaders God’s moving of national trends. He may or may not be calling us to full time professional ministry, but he has called us all to be Christian and serve as an important part of his kingdom team, and he certainly calls us to our families, our friends, and those we interact with on a regular basis, and he calls us to treat all others with the love of Christ. What I’m saying is that while our calls may not all be alike, may not all have the same elements, or the same purpose -- we are all called in some way -- and there are some consistent principles in how God calls and works through and with his people:
He knows us and is committed to us. He knows what we are capable of in his equipping hands. He may use our past experiences, good or bad, to shape us and prepare us. He will direct us to our highest purpose in him. He will go ahead of us and prepare the way for us and be with us and involved in whatever and wherever and to whomever he sends us, regardless of what results (or lack of results) he is creating through us. All he needs from us -- is -- all of us. All he needs from us is all of us. A willingness to die to sin and to live the Christ ethic, and to reply positively to his call of this moment, in this hour, in this day, in this week, in this month – each day we rise and answer the call again by asking, “What Lord, do I do today?”
Closing Hymn Here I Am, Lord
This is, in essence, the covenant that Jesus establishes with us – that he is committed to us in love and direction, and we are committed to him in love and obedience.
Prayer and Closing Blessing.
Dear holy and awe-inspiring Father, we come into your presence aware of our sins and failings. Though there is greatness in us and a deep longing for goodness, we too often deny our better selves and refuse to hear your voice calling us to rise to the full height of our humanity. At times, we find ourselves walking in darkness with our vision obscured. We do not look within, and we are unwilling to look beyond to those who need us. We are too weak to walk without your help. Be with us as a strong friend and teach us to walk by the light of your truth. For you are merciful and gracious, endlessly patient, loving, and true, showing mercy to thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and granting pardon. Thank you for giving yourself to us and for the ability to give ourselves to you, and by faith, receive your presence afresh. Now as we go, may we be strengthened, comforted, and inspired to live lives worthy of God, who calls us into his kingdom and glory. Amen.
Pastor Chuck Williams
Message of Grace are Pastor Chuck's Sunday Sermons.