Monthly Archives: September 2015

God Never Gives Up on Us

Text:   Genesis 9:8-17

 I give up!!   I can’t take it anymore!   I’m out of here!!!.   These words, shouted in anger are a cause for many fears that arise in the minds of those who hear them.   It may be words shouted by a husband to a wife; or by a wife to her husband; or by parents to a child.   Whoever hears them will usually react with fear—-fear of abandonment.

            Fear of Abandonment is perhaps the greatest fear that stalks us from the time we are born until the time we die.    We see evidence of this fear in many different circumstances.   For example:

One of the fears that babies feel is probably that of being abandoned.   They are so helpless and so dependent upon parental figures to meet their needs.   Research has shown that babies who are abandoned in hospitals by their mothers and fathers, if not regularly held by nurses or other aides at the hospital may well die for no apparent physical reason.   Those who survive will be likely to have permanent psychotic problems the rest of their lives. All of us who have been parents recognize the cry of fear when a baby thinks its mother has left it. All who teach school or who are parents remember kindergarten or pre-school children who are going to be away from their mothers or fathers for the first time, clinging to the mothers and fathers-and crying—they are afraid that their parents won’t come back for them.   FEAR OF ABANDONMENT.

But fear is not confined to babies.   Adults have the same fears. Many men and women in our society will put up with both verbal and physical abuse and violence from their mates rather than face the fact that they might be abandoned.   It is a real fear that comes out when couples divorce—-what will I do without my spouse?   Why did he/she leave me?   I feel lost and rejected and ABANDONED!!!   I  have heard these words many times as a pastor.

Spouses who have lost loved ones by death often express the same fear —-why did he/she abandon me?   What will I do?  

One of the saddest experiences I’ve had is walking into a hospital room or nursing home room and seeing a patient in the midst of great suffering or actively dying-–AND THE PERSON WAS ALONE!!   For some reason no one was at the bedside.   At the same time it is always amazing to watch that person’s countenance change the minute myself or a loved one or a friend walks into the room.   Those who suffer are less anxious, and even have less pain when someone they love or care for deeply is willing to walk with them through the valley of the shadow.

As a hospice chaplain, I learned that one of the seven greatest fears that dying persons have is DYING ALONE!   Abandonment! They often feel abandoned by doctors who don’t see them as often; by friends who don’t know what to say so stay away; and even by family that doesn’t visit as much because they are uncomfortable and unable to handle the fact that their loved one is dying.   FEAR OF ABANDONMENT IS A REAL FEAR FOR MANY AT THE END F LIFE, AS WELL AS AT THE BEGINNING OF LIFE!!

One other fear we have is FEAR OF ABANDONMENT BY GOD.   In hospice we called this “SPIRITUAL PAIN” and it is the feeling that God has abandoned us because of our worthlessness or sinfulness.   Spiritual pain can result in great anger toward God, or great sorrow, and is difficult for the patient to overcome.   It can be a direct cause of death.  

NOW—-WHAT DOES ALL OF THE ABOVE HAVE TO DO WITH THE TEXT THAT WAS READ THIS MORNING ABOUT NOAH AND GOD’S COVENANT WITH HIM?

 According to the story of Noah,   God saw all the evil in humanity and his creation and threw up his hands and said—-O.K.   that’s it!   I’m out of here.   But he didn’t quite abandon all creation to destruction—-he found one righteous man—Noah—and saved him and his family and his creation through him.   The rest were destroyed by the Great Flood.  

 After the Great Flood that destroyed all creation but Noah and his family and the animals on the ark, , as the story goes, God saw what had happened and regretted it and changed his mind about his relationship with humankind and creation in the future.   So God made a covenant with Noah and with all future generations of his creation.  God vowed that never again would God be the destroyer.   From this time on God would be the forgiver, the sustainer of life.   Never again would God abandon his creation to chaos—symbolized by the Flood.  And to seal this decision with Noah he offered the covenant we read this morning.  

            God said:   This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you ad every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:   I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.   When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (9:12-15)

            The Hebrew word here for “bow” is “keshet” and it may be used to refer both to a weapon or a natural phenomenon—-to a “bow” (as in bow and arrow)   or to a “bow” (as in rainbow).   Some scholars think that the context here tells us in this passage that God is placing his “unstrung bow” in the clouds as a reminder of the covenant that God has made, not just with Israel but with all creation. Never again will God’s power be used to destroy mankind—-no matter how terrible the aggravation we may give God.   God is saying that his weapon—thought to be thunderbolts and rain from the sky by the ancient Hebrews—is no hanging “on the wall, unstrung” so to speak and will remain there forever.

 THIS RAINBOW IS A REFLECTION THAT GOD IS DETERMINED NEVER TO GIVE UP ON US.   GOD WILL NEVER ABANDON US TO CHAOS AGAIN.   From this moment on, God promises to never give up on us, no matter what we do or do not do. AND THE KEY WORDS ARE:   “I WILL REMEMBER”.   This is the heart of the gospel that Jesus brought—-God forgives and God’s remembers.

 When we are down and feeling like our life has reached an all time low, we have God’s rainbow to remind us that God will never abandon us.

When we have blown it and have totally messed up, God’s rainbow reminds us that we are redeemable in the eyes of God and worth saving.  

IT IS THE SAME GOD THAT SET THE RAINB OW IN THE SKY THAT REMINDS US THAT NEVER AGAIN WOULD CREATION BE ABANDONED—-AND HE SENT JESUS THE CHRIST TO US TO MAKE SURE WE UNDERSTAND.  

IT IS JESUS THE CHRIST,, WHO TELLS US THAT WHEN HE ASCENDS TO God he will send the Holy Spirit to us so that we may never be alone.   Jesus’ gift to us who are his disciples of the Holy Spirit is the new “bow”, the new “sign from God” that we will never be abandoned.

 AND WHAT IS TRUE FOR EACH OF US INDIVIDALLY IS TRUE FOR THE CHURCH AS THE BODY OF CHRIST ON EARTH.

 LISTEN TO THE WORDS OF JESUS PROMISES THAT WE WILL NEVER BE ABANDONED:

John 17:6-15   “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.

John 16:32-33The hour is coming when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.   I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution.   But take courage; I have conquered the world.

Matthew 28:16-20    All authority has been given me in heaven and on earth.   Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.   AND REMEMBER I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS….”

To the thief on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his glory:   “Today you shall be with me in Paradise”

And Paul, thinking of all he had suffered in his work for Christ, writes in Romans 8:   Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?….No, convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Some of you may have, in the past, attended a Marriage Encounter Weekend.   One of the phrases they drum into the minds of those who are ther that I still remember is “GOD ISN’T THROUGH WORKING WITH YOU YET.”   “GOD ISN’T FINISHED WITH YOU!!”

 God sees us individually as a “work in progress.”   And he has promised us His love and grace will always be there for us, even when we screw up seriously.  

I believe that what God promises up individually, God also promises his church—the body of Christ on earth.   God will not abandon his church.   But I also believe that God calls us to recapture the vision of service to Him. \  

After the flood Noah began a new life in a new world.   Jesus came to show us a vision of a new world—the Kingdom of God that he was proclaiming was breaking in on earth. .   I think that God calls us to recapture the vision of that new world, the Kingdom of God that Jesus taught and lived, and to work for that in our community, our church, and our world.   We’ll talk more about that vision in next Sunday’s sermon.

            We as Christians and the church are facing difficult times.   The church is experiencing difficult times—but regardless of what happens, God promises us that he will not give up on us.   God will always be there for us.   GOD ISN’T FINISHED WITH US YET.

            I’d like to close with this story.   Dr. Martin, an evangelist was holding meetings at a church in Boston.   Large crowds attended and many people came to a belief in Jesus Christ.   His wife fell ill with the flu and was very, very ill.   She was so ill that Dr. Martin decided that he would cancel his evening evangelistic meeting so as to be with her.   Their son, who was about six years old, spoke up at that time.   The son told his father and mother—-you don’t have to worry about Mommy, God will take care of her.

            On the basis of that Dr. Martin and his son left to attend the revival meeting.   While he was gone, his wife got to feeling much better—the crisis was past—-and she got up and was waiting for them when they returned, feeling much better.   Thinking of the words that their son had spoken, she sat down during their absence and wrote these words, which were later put to music by her husband, Dr. Martin.   We now may have sung it as the gospel hymn:   God Will Take Care of You.

 

Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you;

Beneath his wings of love abide, God will take care of you.

 

Through days of toil when heart doth fail, God will take care of you;

When dangers fierce your path assail, God will take care of you.

 

All you may need, He will provide, God will take care of you.

Nothing you ask will be denied, God will take care of you.

 

No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you.

Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.

 

God will take care of you, Through every day, O’er all the way;

He will take care of you.   God will take care of you!

 

Amen.

 

 

 

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Who Do YOU Say I Am?

 Scripture: Mark 8:11-28

The final command that Jesus gave to his disciples before his ascension was to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded….” We call it the Great Commission.   Luke reports it a little differently in Acts 1:8 and has Jesus final words to his disciples being this:   “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  

Different words—same essential message.   Disciples of Jesus are to tell the world about Jesus the Risen Messiah and the Kingdom of God he proclaimed.

The basic question is:   How do we go a about doing that in a world that seems uninterested?

We’ve tried inviting them to church.   No longer works well in the present day of millennials and younger folks.

We’ve tried advertising.   Doesn’t seem to work well any more.

We’ve tried scaring people with messages of eHell and damnation and God’s wrath. They were just turned off– -We have found that and faith and fear doesn’t seem to fit together.   In fact, faith is what cancels out fearo.   And the scare tactics do not attract but drive peopleaway. They don’t have much to do with telling people about Jesus.   So scare tactics are counterproductive.

We’ve tried TV and the social media, including web-pages and blogs.   Not working.

We’ve tried changing our music and worship services to “contemporary” rather than “traditional”.   We’ve tried praise bands and loud music while throwing our pipe organs out the back door.   Turns out it didn’t make much of a difference.

 

WHAT WE HAVE NOT TRIED IS PROCLAIMING THE KINGDOM OF GOD THE WAY JESUS DID IT.   What way is that?   Let’s look again at our text for today to answer that question:

            When Jesus asked his disciples the questions in the text today:   Who do people say I am?   And who do you say I am?—-it was near the close of his earthly ministry.   These disciples had followed him, lived with him on a daily basis,   ate with him, shared ministry with him, listened to his teachings.   In the gospel of Mark, Jesus does not ever refer to himself as the Messiah.

            Jesus had kept a low profile on being the Messiah up to this point.   He wasn’t interested in self-promotion and big advertisements in the local papers & Tv..   He published no bumper stickers to place cars advertising who he was.   He hadn’t handed out t-shirts or hats with his face on them.   Jesus, according to Mark’s account, had kept a strict “don’t tell a soul” policy. Jesus referred to himself in Mark as “the son of man”.  

So Peter’s response was based on one thing only—-his experience of JesusWhat Jesus did.   How he acted.  What he taught by his daily life.     From his daily experience of being Jesus follower, Peter discovered who Jesus was—-from his actions more than his words.   When Peter said:   “You are the Messiah!”   it was based on Jesus actions—not just his words. It was based on what Peter had seen as he followed Jesus.

            When Jesus heard Peter’s words, he then began to explain to Peter and the disciples what it meant to be the Messiah   Peter still didn’t fully understand.   He saw Jesus as the messiah—but according to Peter’s definition of “messiah.”   What does “messiah” mean? It harkens back to the Jewish understanding of an “anointed one”.   Anointed by God for a special purpose.   Peter got the word right but substituted his own definition of messiah for the one that Jesus was. It is the Hebrew word for “Christ” (christos) in Greek.

            In the O.T. “messiah” was used to refer to Kings as God’s anointed ones.   As such, in many people’s minds that meant one who God anointed as a conquering hero like David, flushed with success.   But Isaiah gives the word a “different meaning” as he describes the Messiah as being a “suffering servant”.   For Jesus, the “suffering servant” is the vision that is given in Isaiah was the one he sought to fulfill by his life and work.  

           I think in far too many of our churches today we see Jesus in a third way that we have concocted.   Jesus has become a religious market product in today’s world.   There are “Jesus Loves you” smiley beanbag babies; little plastic cross-shaped containers filled with bubbles;   religious pencils; “Jesus is the Light” key chains; “Jesus Lives” rolls of stickers; Lamb of God resin lambs; God erases sin erasers; religious tattoos; pens, posters, etc.   There are bumper stickers saying:

Warning¨ In case of Rapture this car will be driverless; or

“Got God?”

Eternity: smoking or non-smoking?

Jesus is coming, everyone look busy.

There are billboard signs beside our roads advertising Jesus.

 We think we are spreading the word about Jesus with these, but really the only result is they serve to make money for those who sell them. That is because they –do not define the Messiah, God’s suffering servant, God’s anointed   Is it any wonder that people are turned off by all of this?   His “marketing approach” is not a good one for telling the world about Jesus and Gode.  

 We don’t seem to be doing a very good job of telling people about Jesus and God with all the media and paraphanalia we are distributing.

 

Increasingly we hear from the younger generations but more and more from the older generations, that they are searching for God in our churches and not finding God there. They want to deepen their relationship with God.   They say they are “spiritual” not “religious”.   Remember the statistic I gave you last week—-90 of churchgoing adults report that they have never experienced God in church!

So What Do We Do??  

            There are two ways that we can get the word out about Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one of God and the gospel or good news that Jesus brought to humankind about God and his Kingdom:

            The first is by word.   If you were asked what the gospel is, what would your answer be?   If you were asked why it is good news for all people, how would you explain it?? Would you say that Jesus was sent from God with the revelation that God loves all of his creation and that God is not like some person “out there somewhere” but is present in nature and in our daily lives—-whether we recognize God’s presence or not.   Would we say that Jesus revealed a God of love?   Would we say that God is a forgiving God and is like a Father to his children?

            We have to know what we believe about Jesus and God before we can effectively communicate about them to others?

            The second way, and best way is by how we live in God’s Kingdom on earth that Jesus came to proclaim.  

            The sermon on the mount in Matthew communicates “the way” of Jesus.   That’s how we are supposed to be living   Nothing spreads the word better about Jesus’   proclamation of the Kingdom of God on earth and his revelation of God as a God of love and forgiveness than when we as his followers live according to the rules of that Kingdom.     We do this by loving the unlovely; by going the extra mile; by turning the other cheek; by feeding the hungry; by sheltering the homeless; by tending the ill and visiting the dying.

The early church spread rapidly because its followers practiced their beliefs and didn’t just preach!!

As Francis of Assisi said to his monks:   preach constantly, using words only when necessary.

 

I want to close with this story about a lady being pulled over by a traffic cop in a busy city.   She said to him:   “Why did you pull me over?   I wasn’t breaking any laws.”   The policeman answered her this way:   I’ve been watching you for several minutes now. During that time about a lady being pulled over by a traffic cop in a busy city.   She said to him:   “Why did you pull me over?   I wasn’t breaking any laws.”   The policeman answered her this way:   I’ve been watching you for several minutes now. During that time you sped up and went by a car that had cut in on you too quickly and gave him “the universal sign of human friendship”.   Then at the next stoplight you banged your hands on the steering wheel in frustration and honked because the car in front of you didn’t leave quickly enough when the light turned green, then you sped by someone you thought was going to slow and yelled obscenities at them.    

            The lady said—“But officer, none of those are illegal.   I still don’t know why you stopped me!”

            The officer replied:   “Ma’am, I saw the bumper sticker on the back of your car that said “God loves you and so do I”   and I thought that this must be a stolen car.

 

OUR ACTIONS SPEAK SO LOUDLY AT TIMES THAT OTHERS CAN’T HEAR WHAT WE ARE SAYING!   Amen.