Bible Reading Acts 17:24-28
“The true God is the Creator of all things. He is the owner and Lord of the heavenly realm and the earthly realm, and he doesn’t live in man-made temples. He supplies life and breath and all things to every living being. He doesn’t lack a thing that we mortals could supply for him, for he has all things and everything he needs. From one man, Adam, he made every man and woman and every race of humanity, and he spread us over all the earth. He sets the boundaries of people and nations, determining their appointed times in history. He has done this so that every person would long for God, feel their way to him, and find him— for he is the God who is easy to discover! (TPT) and he gives us the power to live, and move, and to be who we are. “We are his children,” just as some of your poets have said. (CEV)
Message Psalm 27: 1,3-4,7-8,10b-14, Hebrews 10:19-22 Reach Upward to God
If you had a superpower, what would it be and how would you use it? You can ponder that over today’s lunch. On NPR's program, This American Life, John Hodgman conducted an informal unscientific survey asking, which is better? The power of flight, or the power of invisibility? What surprised him was that whichever power people chose, they used it to sneak into movies or on to airplanes, steal cashmere sweaters, spy on co-workers, hang around showers, or listen in on conversations about themselves. Almost no one mentioned fighting crime, working for justice, peace or mercy, or even just being plain helpful.
In a school meeting, counselors, teachers, and parents gathered to help one graduating high schooler make plans for his future. In the midst of the conversation, I’m not sure what triggered it, but the student blurted out, "I just want to be a hero".
His primary teacher, and ex-police officer, said, "There are no heroes." It depends on how you define the word. Since he said the phrase with bitter disgust, he was either projecting a cynicism of heroic work that doesn’t seem to make a difference against the growing tide of anti-social evils in society, and/or that he condemned the student as not able -- or wanting -- a noble profession, but as someone who only craved popular glory.
As they explored the statement, they discovered that for this student, being a hero meant getting into a place and position where he could make a positive difference in the life of others. Don't we all want that?
We may not have superhuman powers in the Superman version of the word, but we all have God given power to make an impact on others, on our world. It may not, often isn’t, a big splash that brings fame and popularity. But over the years of faithfully living day in and day out, loving, helping, being responsible, faithful, sacrificial when needed -- we can make the most of each day for God and others, and that can be heroic living.
The “Y” Factor
It depends on why we do what we do. Why do we want to live how we [want to] live?
A husband wanted to impress his new wife and labored over a special meal all day. The wife came home and glanced in the oven: "You did not cut the end of the ham off!" "Why would I?" "Because my mom always cut off the end of the ham." His mother-in-law had been invited to the meal, so he went to her in the living room, "Why did you cut off the end of the ham?" "I cut off the end of the ham because my mom always cut off the end of the ham." "Hmph. I am going to get to the bottom of this." He phoned his grandmother-in-law, "Why did you cut off the end of the ham?" She answered, "So it would fit in my roasting pan."
This is what can happen when we live without considering the "why" factor, when we just do what we’ve always done or see others do. We may unnecessarily put to waste things that are good, and conversely, we may spend time preparing things that add nothing to our lives.
Knowing Why Motivates
Knowing why helps us figure out, and appreciate, what is truly important. Some of you know that I recently got a new-to-me vehicle. Like any big purchase, there is some study and anticipation about bringing home something new. It doesn’t take too long before the new and different wears off and only the monthly bill remains. If we made a reasonable decision, remembering why the choice was made and appreciating what we have may not make the payments exciting, but they are at least tolerable and understandable.
I’ve heard conversations in some churches (not here) in which it seems the people have forgotten why the building was built in the first place. In my mind I sometimes thought they’d be happier if one of those museum type thick crushed velvet rope was hung in front of the doors lest a fingerprint hit a glass door, or a drop of mud hit the carpet and they’d have to pay for that cleaning! It is important for us to recognize not only do we have church bills to pay -- but why those bills are there -- that real ministry for the sake of Christ is at least being attempted - to meet the spiritual needs of everyone who walks through those doors; and goes out those doors and into the community. That may not make bills exciting, but it at least helps us appreciate what and who we have and encourages us to continue making disciples for the transformation of the world by opening our hearts, our doors, our pocketbooks, our calendars, our energy, and our prayers -- whatever we have that we can give to God.
Knowing Why Provides direction
The why factor also clarifies activity choices. To use our husbandly banquet story -- it helps us provide a full meal without cutting off valuable parts of our life simply because it wasn’t a part of our life before; and may also help us see what really needs to be trimmed because it adds nothing - and may even hinder - the quality of our life now as God and we want it to become.
Stephen Covey once said, "Many people spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success [of their goals, of their habits] only to find that when they reach the top, they have leaned their ladder against the wrong building. (They discovered that once they accomplished those goals - they meant nothing to them. They spent their life chasing after and achieving what was for them -- the wrong things).
When it comes to the why factor of our spiritual journey, I see three “whys”, three compass points, three directions, three buildings upon which God’s people should set their ladders.
Reach Upward to God
People are on a quest seeking blessing, peace, meaningfulness and happiness. But the Christian faith and the God of the Bible is sought less and less to fill this built-in yearning. The reasons for looking elsewhere may be many. Some fill their lives with such a constant stream of input and busy-ness that they fail to recognize or respond to deafening roar of the soul’s hunger pangs. (Have you ever run into people who are too busy to eat? This is a similar. They just don’t take or make time for spiritual nourishment). Or perhaps, people’s perception of God’s character may be flawed. Or perhaps they may have focused too much on God’s imperfect people and their imperfections instead of God himself. Or they may have bought in to principles or philosophies that exclude God and present themselves as “better” answers for our spiritual hunger.
For me, that is like sitting down to a meal and filling my stomach with concrete. Concrete is a heavy meal, and very filling, but is not very satisfying, and it won’t do much for my physical health. But I might continue to do it because I continue to be hungry -- so I just keep shoveling it in because I don’t realize what my body truly craves. In the same way, sometimes we try to fill our spiritual needs with nothing (ignoring it), or with everything but what we heard in the reading -- everything but the One who designed our soul and our world and guides the nations through history -- not because he needs us, but because he wants us, and wants us to long for him and find him and find in him our ability to live lovingly and function fully and find our identity and become his children. (Acts 17:24-28)
There are many people who, if they only knew, would be thrilled to discover the joy of intimately knowing the true God the way David did when he wrote in Psalm 27.
The Lord is my light and my salvation— … the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? … my heart will not fear; though war break out against me [for David, that was literal evil enemy armies surrounding his small nation -- in America and my life and perhaps yours -- we could see it as the onslaught of our soul of anything in our surroundings that tempts to turn us away from seeking God, or even from our own inner restlessness. But David says] even then I will be confident… this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple… My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. … the Lord will receive me. Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. [again, for David very literal, but for us it could be the temptations of those outer complaints and inner voices (many of us have those tapes playing in our head that aren’t very helpful) in which we tell ourselves to feel defeated and to give up -- and give up faith in God. Yet, David says,] I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart… (Non-bracketed text is from Psalm 27 (NIV))
David is, as we should be, very intentional about moving upward into an ever-deepening relationship with God. He longingly calls us to be serious about our relationship with him. This compass point moves both ways on the needle: God moves down the needle toward where we are. Scripture says:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10 (NIV)) God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 (NIV)) As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16b (NIV))
God is always moving toward us, and we, in turn, move up the compass needle toward him. Scriptures says:
Come near to God and he will come near to you… (James 4:8a (NIV)) ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ (Luke 10:27b (NIV)) …build yourselves up in your most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (Jude 20b (NIV))
Many of us move through life determined to make every effort to satisfy our physical and economical and every other sort of yearnings. But take a moment to consider our spiritual yearnings as well. How hungry for God are we? How are we trying to fill that hunger? With what or with who? with “concrete” or with Christ? And if it is God, then how will that clarify our motivations, our daily choices and actions? What will our life then look like? Will it be any different?
One of the reasons media is so popular among so many is that it presents us with people who, while often flawed in ways we can relate to, they somehow rise above those flaws to heroically accomplish something important to make the world better. Not that many years ago NBC even produced a popular show named “Heroes”, in which normal people discovered extraordinary powers to accomplish a great task for the world.
We could, with that policeman turned teacher, be cynical and say we like heroes and heroines because it resonates with a vicarious self-aggrandizement. “Hey, look how great I am, how powerful, how in control, how popular -- look at my limelight, check out my cape”. And evil may well tempt us to twist us toward that motivation.
But what if the attraction of heroic living indicates something deeper in the human soul. What if it is a God-wired DNA data string that makes us value God’s values, an altruistic "echo" that God has spoken into humanity -- an echo that says, "You were designed to long for something greater — a greatness of living to love others and to make a positive difference in my world.”
Bible narratives are still relevant today because they are snapshots of ordinary people with ordinary, sometimes extraordinary flaws, who have risen to God’s call and strove to make a difference in their families and in the lives of God’s people and in their world. It also portrays why our ultimate genuine hero (Jesus) means so much to us -- by his death and resurrection, he connects us and guides us on this upward journey toward God, while God is at the same time coming close to us in Christ.
If we have any doubts of our ability to approach God and become what he wants us to be for each other and for God’s world, the author to Hebrews tells us that
“now we are brothers and sisters in God’s family because of the blood of Jesus, and he welcomes us to come right into the most holy sanctuary in the heavenly realm—boldly and with no hesitation. For he has dedicated a new, life-giving way for us to approach God… Jesus’ body was torn open to give us free and fresh access to [God]! … we come closer to God and approach him with an open heart, fully convinced by faith that nothing will keep us at a distance from him. For our hearts have been sprinkled with blood to remove impurity [Hebrews alludes to the Old Testament a lot, so if you don’t know the Old Testament this can be confusing imagery that he is giving -- but in an Old Testament ritual for purification from sin, the priest would take the blood the the sacrificed animal and he would sprinkle it on the people, and that sprinkling symbolized that the death penalty of sin was paid for in the animal so the people could go on an live, cleansed from their sins -- for they are washed away -- and that same imagery is picked up in the Hebrews where Jesus is both priest and sacrifice and his blood is sprinkled on us and cleanses us and makes us pure -- as he goes on in this text,] … now we are clean, unstained, and presentable to God inside and out!
(Non-bracketed text is fromFrom Hebrews 10:19-22 (TPT))
and that is why we can draw close to God without fear and heroically strive to live for others just as Jesus lived for us.
Closing Prayer Let’s pray. Lord as we consider our journey toward you, we realize that we want to live well for you. Help us to not be, and forgive us when we are, motivated for wrong reasons or forget why we are living for you. It is in your Son Jesus’ life and death and resurrection that we are shown how to live heroically, to bring God's kingdom to life in our world. We turn our focus on him. We ask that his values take hold in our life and become our values; for it is by his life-giving blood that the cost of our sins are paid, and we can find forgiving salvation and healing and by your grace offered through Jesus Christ, we can be filled and find the satisfaction of our quest, boldly moving to the very throne of God -- into your holiest of holy Presence. We are thankful for all you have done in our lives. Amen. Let’s stand and sing about Christ’s blood -- the symbol of God’s forgiveness and cleansing grace that brings healing and hope…
* Hymn # 622 (vv 1,2,4) There is a Fountain
* Closing Blessing Now Christ sprinkles us clean as we move “true north” to Jesus, drawing near to God as he comes near to you in his love, so that as you adore him and lay your life before him, you will find full life in his direction.
* Closing Hymn TFWS # 2038 (v 1) Father, I Adore You