Category Archives: Sermons

Itch-Scratching Christianity

 

Text:  Mark 10:46-52                                                                                      

I’m sure you’ve seen the ad on TV where the elderly lady has fallen and is yelling “Help!  I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”    It is an advertisement for a Life Line button and support system.    Many people laugh at the ad—-and it is a little over-acted—-but if you have been in that position you would not find it laughable

    The word “help” is one of the hardest words for Americans to voice.   Most people would rather crawl out into the street than call for help.   There are many reasons for this.  

  • We were never taught how to ask for help and have few role models to follow.
  • We love our independence and the “American Way” is to be a “rugged individualist”, taking care of our own problems.
  • We are afraid to ask as we’d rather die than have people think we can’t take care of ourselves.
  • We are afraid that we will “bother” people with our requests. I have been told many times by parishioners that “I didn’t want to bother you with my problem, as I know you are very busy.”   To which I always respond by saying—-if I’m ever too busy to stop and share people’s problems, then I should get out of the ministry!

Blind Bartimeaus had no such qualms about asking for help, and his story teaches us a lesson about asking for help and the meaning of faith and trust.    The greatest lesson he teaches us is that God’s healing should lead to discipleship. 

 Have you ever been completely unable to see?    Although I haven’t experienced it, it must be terrifying. To not be able to see is to be completely vulnerable.   To not be able to see means you have to trust others to help you and to look out for you.    In one of my courses in  Counseling Psychology, one of the exercises we did to experience the need for trust was a trust exercise where a person stood behind us and we closed our eyes and fell backward.   It required trust of the one who would catch you for otherwise you would end up with a very large bump on the back of your head.    Another exercise asked us to blindfold ourselves and let someone lead us through an unknown territory.    We were completely dependent on the person leading us to keep us from stumbling and falling over various obstacles in our path.   It gave me a glimpse of what blindness would be like.

  Blind people have much to teach us about trust and faith—-and the blind beggar Bartimeaeus teaches us about faith and trust through his story that we read in the Gospel of Mark today.

Bartimaeus was a blind beggar.    He had no choice of what to do, as begging was the only way to provide for himself.     He was sitting by the roadside as the crowd  of Jesus and his disciples  approached as they made  their way out of Jericho going up to Jerusalem.    When he heard that Jesus was about to pass by, without hesitation and without any sense of embarassment, Bartimaeus began to shout:   “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”    The crowd around him may have thought that he was making a scene and tried to silence him,, but he continued to shout until Jesus asked that he be brought to him.   Bartimaeus was blind and the only way he could hope for a productive life was to regain his sight.   He knew his need, but notice that he didn’t lead with his need for sight, but rather his need to be seen by Jesus.  

He shouted “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner”  and not “have mercy on me,   a blind man.”  Bartimaeus seemed to understand that his vision was not only clouded but that he needed spiritual healing as well.   He opened himself to the possibility that his healing might be physical or spiritual, with an outside chance that it might be both.  

 One of the first things I learned in counseling psychology was that people have a “presenting problem” and an underlying “real problem.”    Bartimaeus seemed to realize that while his “presenting problem” was blindness; his “real problem” might be more than physical blindness.   He cried “have mercy on me, a sinner!”  He realized that Jesus could do something about the things that bind him, as well as blind him.And Jesus responded by asking him:   “What do you want me to do for you.”?   And Bartimaeus responded by saying:  “My teacher, let me see again.”   (not “heal my blindness”)  and Jesus responded:  “Go, your faith has made you well.”   (The Greek word for “healing” can also be translated “saving”).   God’s healing saves us.  And immediately his sight was restored and he followed Jesus as a disciple on the Way to Jerusalem in grateful response.    He had more than his eyesight restored—-he was saved by the contact with Jesus.    God healed him through Jesus both physically and spiritually.

And this is where we have a problem today.    I fear that too many Christians are “healed” and then just go on their way and not on The Way of Jesus in discipleship. Once we have been healed we go the way that so many people in Jesus day went—on their own way,  not on the way of discipleship.  Think of all the people Jesus healed—-the leper in Galilee, the roof-destroying friends of the paralytic; the man with a withered hand, the Gerasene demoniac,  the 7 lepers (  only one of whom returned to thank Jesus); and so on and on.   They were healed and went their way and never are heard of again in scripture.    Blind Bartimaeus was different—-he followed Jesus as a disciple on the way to Jerusalem and death and resurrection.

       And this is the problem that we have in our present times.     The church as the body of Christ on earth has been turned into an “itch-scratcher”.     There is a church I read about with a large sign in front of it that illustrates my point.

      One week the advertisement was “Lonely?” then come to our church.  The next week the sign said:   “Depressed?”   Come to our church.   “Anxious?”    Come to our church.   Every week a different malady.   Every week the promise that Jesus could fix it. 

      This is what I call a “Where-does-it-itch” style of Christian ministry.   You tell us, the church, where you itch, what needs you have, the  church exists to scratch where you itch.   An example of this is given by preacher William Willimon, recalling a conference he was at where the speaker, a well known television evangelist said:   “God wants to meet every one of your needs in life.   Whatever your heart desires, bring it to the Lord in prayer”.   He then illustrated this conviction of divine beneficence by telling of a woman of his acquaintance who, when she had been unable to find a part of her favorite red shoes, prayed to God and….there were her shoes, right under her bed!

     Our church here wants to grow—-and it is tempting to do as one church grown consultant wrote:   “Go out into your neighborhood and find out what people need.   Child care?   Elder care?   After school programs?   Then begin those programs.   Churches who meet needs grow.”    

     And many of our churches do this and wonder why the people whose needs they provided for don’t become a part of their church.   Jesus could have asked the same question—-all of the people who Jesus helped—-where were they?    They went on their way—many times without saying thank you to Jesus.  

What churches need to do is not just “scratch the itch” but to make disciples of those whose needs they are trying to meet.   What people in the world today need is not “fixing” but transformation as they relate to God and follow the way that Jesus walked                                                                                                      

Persons who have been touched by Jesus healing and have a personal relationship with God through Jesus,  cannot just be “takers” but also need to be “givers”.    If you have truly been touched by the salvation and healing of God and have a personal relationship with God through Jesus, you will do the same thing that Bartimaeus did—–you will follow on the Way.   Bartimaeus alone among the other hurting, oppressed, victimized, suffering, hungry ones, became a disciple.   He had the ability to see, even when he couldn’t see, what Jesus was really about. 

The story of the healing and the response of Bartimaeus invites us to ask:   What do I want from Jesus?   We look at Jesus, and too many of us see him as a solution to all our problem, freedom from our aches and cares, a magic want waved over our lives to fix everything.  Too many of our churches begin with the selfish invitation to let Jesus fix our needs and never follow through with the selfless invitation to love and serve God and our neighbor as ourselves.   Jesus makes a claim on our lives.   This is the same Jesus that said:   “He who would be first must be the servant of all.”    This is the Jesus who said:   “He who would save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”    This is the Jesus who said:   “If anyone would be my disciple, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”   The way of Jesus is the way of the Cross.    It is the way of discipleship.

     The real questions here are:  Is Jesus our Lord, or our errand boy?   Are we his faithful followers or only his pestering clients?      A better question to ask is:   What does Jesus want from us.    And the answer Bartimaeus gives us—-follow Jesus on The Way.  

     What is “The Way”?    

It is the way of discipleship.    It is calling us to a life of service.    It is the way that Jesus walked when he was on earth.   It is the way of LOVE of God and neighbor and not just yourself.

     There is a great gap between meeting people’s needs and calling them to discipleship.   The churches that truly grow are the ones that invite people to discipleship—-to a transforming relationship with God through Christ.   Amen

                                                                               

 

 

                                                                                                       

 

Does God Care about Paris?

 Text: Exodus: 16: 2-15

 Theme: God Cares For us through human actions as well as God’s actions.

We are faced often with destructive events.   Some are man-made, such as terrorists attacks like the one in Paris this past Friday evening; mass shootings at schools and movie theatres and malls; shootings at the Baptist Church in Charleson, S.C. during a prayer meeting.   Some of the events are natural: such as tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis.   All are violent and lead to loss of life, pain and suffering for both the victims and those related to us.  

            The question that always emerges after any or all of these events occur is this one:   Does God Care?   They ask:   Why does God let such terrible things happen to his creation and to his creatures?   He is supposed to be a loving God, why does He let such things happen to people? Does God really care? (This question is often asked in an accusatory way that indicates—-“I don’t think so!”

            Human beings have been asking this question for a long time. In Old Testament times the man, Job, asked the same question of God. Job, who lost everything that he owned, and also his wife and children and Job laying in the dust, condemned by his fellow men as a great sinner, asked God the question in these words:   “I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me.   Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands?”  (Job 10:3-4)

Do you care for me God? Job asks.

The same question was addressed to Jesus by his disciples in the 4th chapter of the gospel of Mark.   Jesus was in a boat with his disciples and a great storm came and the disciples feared for their lives.  Mark writes that Jesus was asleep in the boat on some cushions in the rear of the boat, where the tiller is that steers.   The disciples, in great fear, woke up Jesus with the words:   “Do you not care that we perish?” Jesus rebuked the wind and waves and an immediate calm came about—and he said to his disciples “Why are you afraid? Do you still not have faith?”   In other words—-don’t you know I am always with you?   Don’t you know that I care?   Why then be fearful?

 Does God Care?   That is essentially the question the grumbling Israelites asked Moses in the Wilderness as we read the text today from Exodus.

            The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.   The Israelites said to them:   If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger!

What they were saying was:   You claim that God cares for us and told you to deliver us from slavery in Egypt, but at least there we had enough to eat.   God doesn’t really care about us. We’d have been better off as slaves in Egypt, rather than starving in the wilderness. Where is your God now, Moses? Does God care for us?   Prove it!!

 In response, God told Moses that he was going to “rain bread from Heaven” upon the people and cause quail to land among them.   “At twilight you shall eat meat, says God, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”

God shows God’s care through his actions.   Through sending food to the Israelites God shows he cares—-with a resounding YES.

            But the Israelites missed the point—-as we read in Numbers—-they soon craved and preferred the “slave food” of Egypt over the “soul food” of the wilderness—the manna.   Listen to their complaint:

            We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at!”

Far from finding spiritual sustenance, they complained about gastronomic boredom!! They weren’t satisfied with God’s provision.   They wanted more variety.   They wanted to shop around a bit for a better menu.  

And that has been the history of God’s people for all time.  When it comes to what God gives us we say:   what else is on the menu—is that all?  

You see—God has provisioned us also.   He has let us know that He cares in many ways.   He has provided us with “manna of divine nourishment”—-we call it prayer, meditation, the Bible, worship services, communion, tithing, fellowship with our brothers and sisters—AND YET WE CONSIDER THESE PROVISIONS OF GOD WITH A “TAKE-IT-OR- LEAVE-IT-ATTITUDE’.   We say:   “Is that all?   I want something better. I want better music! I want a better preacher.  I want someone else to do the praying because I’m busy.  “I”!   “I!   “ME”!   “ME”!

In our market-driven culture, a market driven church has emerged, as Eugene Peterson put it in his book “The Jesus Way”:

            “The great American innovation in congregations is to turn them into a consumer enterprise….If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get people into our congregations is to identify what they want and offer it to them, satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon; and recast the gospel in consumer terms, i.e.:   Entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem solving, whatever….” (p.6)

What Peterson is saying is that people now want to be spiritual CONSUMERS instead of DISCIPLES.

They come to worship looking for something tasty and exciting and sensational.   And if they don’t get it, or the service is bad, they will reduce the tip or not tip at all.   And if the worship menu doesn’t get better, they’ll stop visiting this particular spiritual restaurant altogether and patronize another one where the food, the service, and the ambience are more to their liking!

            THE POINT I’M MAKING IS THAT GOD CARES—-IT IS THE PEOPLE WHO DON’T RESPOND TO GOD’S CARE!!!   We thumb our nose at God as the Israelites did, and say—-is this the best you can do for us God?   Just the same old manna and quail, day after day!!!   Just the same old scripture and worship services every Sunday?

 But we continue to ask the same question, Does God care?    We asked that question when the planes hit the Twin Trade Towers in 1001—-we asked the question when Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and the Gulf Coast—-we asked the question when many were killed at a prayer meeting in Charleston, S.C.—-we asked the question when innocent children in a school were shot down like rabbits. We will hear the question asked again about the massacre in Paris last Friday. Does God care?   Why does God allow his people to suffer and die?    

            What we are saying is “if God cares God wouldn’t allow this to happen—but if we think rationally about that question, we know God doesn’t cause bad things to happen.   A loving God grieves with us, cries with us, and gives us strength to endure the bad things that happen—but never causes them.  

            God has created a world in which the laws of nature are so precise that we can fire a rocket and know that it will reach orbit and its destination at a specific time and place.   That’s how precise the so-called laws of nature are that God created.

            True, we know that God CAN intervene with nature.   Surely God has that power—the power of the Creator over his Creation. And yet, have you thought about what would happen if God granted each of our prayers and intervened with what we want in Creation? For example:Here is a farmer praying for rain so that his crop will grow, while two miles away another farmer is praying for dry weather to allow him to reap his crop.  Both, if they don’t get what they want question “Does God care about me and my problems?”

Perhaps the best answer to the question is that God allows evil to happen with its disastrous results just as God allows good to happen with its beautiful results. He does not control either. To do so would take away free will from his creation and we would be puppets pulled by God’s strings. God desires relationship with God’s creation and that can’t happen if God is pulling all the strings and we are just puppets jumping according  to his Will. God does not relate to us as puppets but as human beings he has created with free will in God’s image.    When human beings have free will, evil as well as good will result.  But God can take evil and use it for good, as the Bible points out in the story of Joseph.   God is in the world and with us at all times—-God is not some bearded and whitehaired being that is sitting on a throne in heaven, wherever that might be—-God is here—-with us.   Paul says:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose….If God is for us, who can be against us?….Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?   (Note:   all of these the result of evil in the world) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am 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.”

THAT’S THE ANSWER:   God Cares for us. God loves us.   God is always with us.   Nothing can se[arate us from God.   God will provide.   God will be with us in Joys and in sorrows ; in times of Hope and times of Despair.   God is with us. Nothing can separate us from God —even the worst evils that befall human beings.  

God will not protect us from pain and suffering and death and destruction.   We will endure  pain and suffering because human beings have been created with free will—to do good, or to do evil.    When evil occurs God does not protect us from it but sends love and sustenance and his presence in our lives to help us endure what happens to us and our loved ones because of that evil in the world.      

God provides us with many sources of strength and comfort as we face the dangers of life on this earth. Let me name a few of them.

First, there are the scriptures that we can read and that can become a part of us so that they are food for our souls when we are in distress. For example:   Psalm 23: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff hey comfort me.”

As a pastor I have seen this many times as I walked through the valley with a dying patient—-saying this Psalm and seeing the patient’s lips speaking the words as I say them—-comfort!   God is there.   He cares.   His Word gives comfort to the dying and peace and comfort to heal the broken hearts of a family as they are reminded through the scriptures that their loved ones are not gone forever—that death is not “goodbye” as I like to say, but more like “see you later”. As Jesus said:   “In my father’s house are many rooms.   I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go, I will return again and take you to myself, that where I am you will be also.”

Yes God is with us through the Scriptures—-But we must read them and re-read them and make them a part of our lives.

Second. We find comfort and the care of God through the hymns that we sing each Sunday during worship services.   The old hymn “God Will Take Care of You” is an example—“be not dismayed, whate’er betide. God will take care of you.   Beneath his wings of love abide, God will take care of you”  “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.”   “Under His Wings, I am safely abiding. Tho’ the night deepens and tempests are wild.   Still, I can trust Him; I know He will keep me; He has redeemed me, and I am His Child”…But to find comfort in these hymns we must sing them in worship and let them become a vital part of our lives.   .   Here again, OUR RESPONSE to God’s comfort provided is vital.

And finally, we find comfort and care of God from other Christians.  Here is where WE fit into God’s plans.   Many is the time when I have been present at the visitation of one who has departed this life, when I see someone who has recently lost a loved one and knows the sorrow and pain the bereaved person is feeling—go up to that person and without a word, put their arms around them and cry with them.   And the grieving person is receiving God’s care and comfort through that person who holds them and cries with them.

 

One of the books I have read is titled “The Conspiracy of Compassion.”   Conspiracy means from the Latin “to breathe with”.   And Christian brothers and sisters as they show compassion are showing how God cares.   In hospice we called that “being present”.

God cares—God shows that care in many ways, including the three ways named above.    IT IS UP TO EACH OF US TO BE A PART OF THAT CARING AND TO RESPOND TO GOD.   As Jesus loved us and gave himself for us, so must we love one another and show the love to others that Jesus showed us was God’s love and care.

The Apostle John says it best:    Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action!” (I John 3)

 YES—GOD CARES!!   HOW ARE WE RESPONDING TO HIS LOVE AND CARE?   God has shown his care as he did with the Israelites in the wilderness—by God’s actions!! THE MANNA WAS HIS MESSAGE THAT HE CARED!

      For us:   the Bible, Prayer, Meditation, Communion Worship, and the ministrations of other fellow Christians to us—that is his Manna Message to us today that He cares for us. We must be open to receive the care that he sends us.   Amen.   

 

 

Milestones

Text:   Ruth 1:1-11

 Life is a Journey! That journey is described in very different ways.   For example, in Shakespeare’s play “King Lear”—-Lear defines the journey of life in this way:   “Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!” Jesus, on the other hand, told his disciples that He came to bring life and to bring it abundantly to those who follow him.

            The journey of life contains many hardships to endure as well as joys to celebrate.       It contains achievements that reward us for our journey as well as failures that cause us pain. All of these joys, hardships, failures, and successes are milestones that we leave for those who come after us as we go on the journey of life—-they are Milestones —-markers to guide oncoming generations and help them avoid our failures and achieve our successes.   Milestones are the legacy that we leave for those who follow after us to guide their way.

            In this journey of life we are either nomads or pilgrims. What is the difference?   A nomad is a wanderer.   Nomads pay no attention to the milestones and have no goals for where they are going—-and so they wander aimlessly.   They say “I don’t know where I am going, but I’ll get there because I am an individual and no one is going to tell me how to live my life.    A pilgrim follows milestones left by generations before to avoid problems and live a more abundant life.   They take note of the milestones left behind by previous pilgrims.  

That brings us to the story of Ruth that we read as our scripture text today. It is the story of a journey.   The journey begins with a family of Israelites facing a time of famine, and making the decision to move away from the little town of Bethlehem and journey to Moab.   When you think of this famine, think of the Great Depression of the 1930’s and the Dust Bowl.   The mother in the family was named Naomi and she traveled with her husband and two sons to the land of Moab to survive the famine.   Naomi’s husband died soon after they arrived in Moab, and eventually the two sons married Moabite women—Orpah and Ruth.   After about ten years of marriage the two sons died, leaving Ruth with only her two daughters-in-law.   Since there was no way Naomi could take care of herself and them in Moab, she decided to move back to Bethlehem where she would have the support of her extended family.   She began the journey with Orpah and Ruth, but on further thought, decided that Orpah and Ruth would have the best chance to re-marry if they stayed in Moab, as the Jewish people were quite prejudiced against Moabites. “Go back to your mother’s house” Naomi urged, “May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.”    Naomi knew that her relatives in Bethlehem had a negative view of Moabite immigrants—you know—-they don’t pay their taxes, they bleed the welfare system dry, they take jobs away from the Jews, and so on as deeply entrenched prejudice always holds—-even today.  

            Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye and returned to her family in Moab; but Ruth surprisingly clung to her mother-in-law and refused to go—-saying:   “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.   Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried……”

            To complete the story; God smiled on Ruth’s determination to movie in this new direction and in time Ruth met and married Boaz and they had a son named Obed.   Obed would become the father of Jesse who was the father of David, the greatest king Israel .   And David was the ancestor of the carpenter Joseph of Nazareth who took Mary as his wife and a son was born named Jesus—The Messiah— distantly related to Ruth.—-ALL OF THE ABOVE WERE MILESTONES USED BY GOD THAT POINTED TO JESUS THE CHRIST.!   THE LONG AWAITED MESSIAH!

            What we see in Ruth’s story were people on a journey.   Naomi and her family on a journey to Moab; Ruth on a journey with her mother-in-law to a place unknown to her called Bethlehem. All were milestones left along the way toward the destination of the coming of God to earth in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.

 What are milestones?   They are significant places and people through our journey through life who leave behind them a legacy of examples for us to live by.   The idea comes from the book of Joshua.   In the book of Joshua we read that when the entire Hebrew nation had crossed the Jordan River into the promised land, Joshua said:   “Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and command them, “Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priest’s feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.   …..When your children ask in time to come “What do those stones mean to you? “ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord when it passed over the Jordan. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.” (Joshua 4) They were called “Milestones”.   And they marked a significant place in the history of the Jewish people’s journey from being slaves in Egypt, through the Wilderness; and finally to the Promised Land.

 On this All Saints Day we look back at the journeys of our loved ones that have departed the earth this past year.   Each of them, if we were to speak to their loved ones who remained behind have left milestones for us to follow.   They have left a legacy concerning how life should be lived.  And we, their loved ones have a share in that legacy and as we journey through life as pilgrims we also will leave milestones behind for those who follow after us. The legacy of a life well-lived.  

   I have only seen two of the legacies or milestones left for us in the person of Frances Campbell and Pop Warner, but all of those named today in our bulletin insert whom we remember in this service have left behind their milestones on their journey through life—their legacies , I am certain.   They are in the hearts and minds of their children, grandchildren, and fellow pilgrims trying to walk the way of Jesus.  

            And all of the saints who have gone before us at Christian and Congregational Church have left their milestones behind for us who follow in their footsteps.   Those who had a dream and founded this church.   Those saints that through the years supported this church and contributed to its impact on the community.   A long line of saints have gone before us in this church and we live today because of their contributions of their lives to their church which is now our church.  

The writer of the Book of Hebrews in the N.T. wrote about the legacy we are left by saints gone before us and the duty we have to follow in their steps:   “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith….”   (Heb. 12:1-2)

 An unknown poet points our duty as we follow the milestones of past saints in the present:

 Hold high the torch!

You did not light its glow—

‘Twas given you by other hands, you know.

‘Tis yours to keep it burning bright,

Yours to pass on when you no more need light

For there are other feet that we must guide,

And other forms go marching by our side;

Their eyes are watching every smile and tear

And efforts which we think are not worthwhile

Are sometimes just the very help  they need,

Actions to which their souls would give most heed;

So that in turn, they’ll hold it high

And say, “I watched someone else carry it this way.”

If brighter paths should beckon you to choose,

Would your small gain compare with all you’d lose?

 Hold high the torch!

You did not light its glow—-

‘Twas given you by other hands, you know.

I think it started down its pathway bright,

The day the Maker said: “Let there be light”

And He once said, who hung on Calvary’s tree—

You are the light of the world”…..Go!….. Shine for me!

 

    

 

Blind Faith

 

Text: Mark 10:46-52          

        I’m sure you’ve seen the ad on TV where the elderly lady has fallen and is yelling “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”   It is an advertisement for a Life Line button and support system.   Many people laugh at the ad—-and it is a little over-acted—-but if you have been in that position you would not find it laughable.  

            The word “help” is one of the hardest words for Americans to voice. Most people would rather crawl out into the street than call for help.   There are many reasons for this.  

We were never taught how to ask for help and have few role models to follow.

We love our independence and the “American Way” is to be a “rugged individualist”, taking care of our own problems.

We are afraid to ask as we’d rather die than have people think we can’t take care of ourselves.

We are afraid that we will “bother” people with our requests.   I have been told many times by parishioners that “I didn’t want to bother you with my problem, as I know you are very busy.”   To which I always respond by saying—-if I’m ever too busy to stop and share people’s problems, then I should get out of the ministry!

Blind Bartimeaus had no such qualms about asking for help, and his story teaches us a lesson about asking for help and the meaning of faith and trust.   The greatest lesson he teaches us is that God’s healing should lead to discipleship.  

 

Have you ever been completely unable to see?   Although I haven’t experienced it, it must be terrifying. To not be able to see is to be completely vulnerable.   To not be able to see means you have to trust others to help you and to look out for you.   In one of my courses in Counseling Psychology, one of the exercises we did to experience the need for trust was a trust exercise where a person stood behind us and we closed our eyes and fell backward.   It required trust of the one who would catch you for otherwise you would end up with a very large bump on the back of your head.   Another exercise asked us to blindfold ourselves and let someone lead us through an unknown territory.   We were completely dependent on the person leading us to keep us from stumbling and falling over various obstacles in our path.   It gave me a glimpse of what blindness would be like.

            Blind people have much to teach us about trust and faith—-and the blind beggar Bartimeaeus teaches us about faith and trust through his story that we read in the Gospel of Mark today.

            Bartimaeus was a blind beggar.   He had no choice of what to do, as begging was the only way to provide for himself.   He was sitting by the roadside as the crowd of Jesus and his discipes approached as they made their way out of Jericho going up to Jerusalem.   When he heard that Jesus was about to pass by, without hesitation and without any sense of embarassment, Bartimaeus began to shout:   “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”   The crowd around him may have thought that he was making a scene and tried to silence him,, but he continued to shout until Jesus asked that he be brought to him.   Bartimaeus was blind and the only way he could hope for a productive life was to regain his sight.   He knew his need, but notice that he didn’t lead with his need for sight, but rather his need to be seen by Jesus.  

            He shouted “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner” and not “have mercy on me a blind man.” Bartimaeus seemed to understand that his vision was not only clouded but that he needed spiritual healing as well.   He opened himself to the possibility that his healing might be physical or spiritual, with an outside chance that it might be both.  

            One of the first things I learned in counseling psychology was that people have a “presenting problem” and an underlying “real problem.”   Bartimaeus seemed to realize that while his “presenting problem” was blindness; his “real problem” might be more than physical blindness.   He cried “have mercy on me, a sinner!” He realized that Jesus could do something about the things that bind him, as well as blind him.

            And Jesus responded by asking him:   “What do you want me to do for you.”?   And Bartimaeus responded by saying: “My teacher, let me see again.”   (not “heal my blindness”) and Jesus responded: “Go, your faith has made you well.”   (The Greek word for “healing” can also be translated “saving”).   God’s healing saves us. And immediately his sight was restored and he followed Jesus as a disciple on the Way to Jerusalem in grateful response.   He had more than his eyesight restored—-he was saved by the contact with Jesus.   God healed him through Jesus both physically and spiritually.  

And this is where we have a problem today.   I fear that too many Christians are “healed” and then just go on the way and not on The Way of Jesus in discipleship. Once we have been healed we go the way that so many people in Jesus day went—on their own way, not on the way of discipleship. Think of all the people Jesus healed—-the leper in Galilee, the roof-destroying friends of the paralytic; the man with a withered hand, the Gerasene demoniac, the 7 lepers ( only one of whom returned to thank Jesus); and so on and on.   They were healed and went their way and never are heard of again in scripture.   Blind Bartimaeus was different—-he followed Jesus as a disciple on the way to Jerusalem and death and resurrection.

       And this is the problem that we have in our modern times.     The church as the body of Christ on earth has been turned into an “itch-scratcher”.    There is a church I read about with a large sign in front of it that illustrates my point.

     One week the advertisement was “Lonely?” then come to our church. The next week the sign said:   “Depressed?”   Come to our church.   “Anxious?”   Come to our church.   Every week a different malady.   Every week the promise that Jesus could fix it.

     This is what I call a “Where-does-it-itch” style of Christian ministry.  You tell us, the church, where you itch, what needs you have, the church exists to scratch where you itch.   An example of this is given by preacher William Willimon, recalling a conference he was at where the speaker, a well known television evangelist said:   “God wants to meet every one of your needs in life.   Whatever your heart desires, bring it to the Lord in prayer”.   He then illustrated this conviction of divine beneficence by telling of a woman of his acquaintance who, when she had been unable to find a part of her favorite red shoes, prayed to God and….there were her shoes, right under her bed!

     Our church here wants to grow—-and it is tempting to do as one church grown consultant wrote:   “Go out into your neighborhood and find out what people need.   Child care?   Elder care?   After school programs?   Then begin those programs.   Churches who meet needs grow.”    

     And many of our churches do this and wonder why the people whose needs they provided for don’t become a part of their church.   Jesus could have asked the same question—-all of the people who Jesus helped—-where were they?   They went on their way—many times without saying thank you to Jesus.  

What churches need to do is not just “scratch the itch” but to make disciples of those whose needs they are trying to meet.   What people in the world today need is not “fixing” but transformation as they relate to God and follow the way that Jesus walked.

                                                                                   

Persons who have been touched by Jesus healing and have a personal relationship with God through Jesus, cannot just be “takers” but also need to be “givers”.   If you have truly been touched by the salvation and healing of God and have a personal relationship with God through Jesus, you will do the same thing that Bartimaeus did—–you will follow on the Way.   Bartimaeus alone among the other hurting, oppressed, victimized, suffering, hungry ones, became a disciple.   He had the ability to see, even when he couldn’t see, what Jesus was really about.

 

The story of the healing and the response of Bartimaeus invites us to ask:   What do I want from Jesus?  We look at Jesus, and too many of us see him as a solution to all our problem, freedom from our aches and cares, a magic want waved over our lives to fix everything. Too many of our churches begin with the selfish invitation to let Jesus fix our needs and never follow through with the selfless invitation to love and serve God and our neighbor as ourselves.   Jesus makes a claim on our lives.   This is the same Jesus that said:   “He who would be first must be the servant of all.”   This is the Jesus who said:   “He who would save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”   This is the Jesus who said:   “If anyone would be my disciple, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”   The way of Jesus is the way of the Cross.   It is the way of discipleship.

 

     The real questions here are: Is Jesus our Lord, or our errand boy?   Are we his faithful followers or only his pestering clients?     A better question to ask is:   What does Jesus want from us.   And the answer Bartimaeus gives us—-follow Jesus on The Way.  

     What is “The Way”?  

It is the way of discipleship.   It is calling us to a life of service.   It is the way that Jesus walked when he was on earth.  

     There is a great gap between meeting people’s needs and calling them to discipleship.   The churches that truly grow are the ones that invite people to discipleship—-to a transforming relationship with God through Christ.   Amen

                                                                             

 

 

           

 

Without a Vision, the People Perish!

Text:    Acts 16:6-15

Do you ever have the feeling you are going around in circles and getting nowhere?   Do you ever feel that our church is doing that?     It’s a frustrating feeling!   You feel like you are trying so hard—-you are doing so much work—-but you don’t seem to be achieving much or getting anywhere.

One of the key reasons for this happening is our not being able to see what our destination or goal is.   Without that destination of what God wants you to do in mind, we are not  able to focus on where we are going——and we keep going in circles.

Although I grew up on a farm until 5th grade, we then moved to Abilene.   My last two years of high school and first two of college I went to work for a farmer near Abilene who farmed 500 acres of wheat as well as other crops..   After the wheat harvest was over it was then time to do the plowing with a five bottom plow.   If my employer wanted the field plowed so all the furrows were in the same direction, I found very quickly that thr first thing I had to do was plow a straight first furrow.   The only way to do that was to find something directly across the field from me and fix my eye on that and head the tractor straight toward it.   If I took my eyes off the destination for even a moment I would have a crooked furrow .   I had to stay completely focused on my destination.  

Long ago, the writer of Proverbs said words that relate to this example.   He wrote:   “Without a vision, the people perish”, as translated in the KJV.   It was important for Israel to keep in focus their vision of being God’s chosen people to spread knowledge of God to the rest of the world.

It is just as important for a congregation today to have a vision that they can focus on to achieve.   If it is to be achieved successfully, it must be God’s Vision, not just the congregation’s. Do you know what this church’s vision is?   (Please don’t all answer at the same time in telling me)   Is it a common, shared vision.?   Is our church focused on it?

A VISION should answer these important questions:

WHAT is our congregation’s purpose for living?

WHY is our congregation here in this specific place?

WHAT specifically is God calling us to do as his church?

HOW is God using us, or wanting to use us to make a difference in our world—-right here—right now?

If we have no such shared vision for our congregation, we really have no reason to live. WITHOUT A VISION, THE CHURCH WILL PERISH EVENTUALLY!!

In today’s text, the Apostle Paul is having a vision problem.   He and his missionary group were going in circles and not getting anywhere it seems. Paul’s idea was to head into Asia but that idea was nixed by the Holy Spirit.   He then decided that they would go toward Bithynia but this decision was also disallowed by the Spirit of Jesus.   Paul and his companions appear to be on the verge of traveling in circles when he finally received a VISION in a dream that directed their mission to Macedonia—to the West and not towards the East and Asia.  In Paul’s vision he saw a man in Macedonia calling for their help and immediately they set out for Macedonia—following the vision sent to him by the Holy Spirit.   They arrived in Philippi and there with the help of Lydia establish one of the strongest churches on their missionary journeys.

Two important things must be noted here about Paul’s actions. First, he was aware of the Holy Spirit’s leadership of their journey and when the Holy Spirit blocked where he thought HE wanted to go—twice—-he followd the leadership of the Spirit of Christ.   Secondly, after first being blocked and then again, Paul didn’t sit down and pout when denied the door to Asia. He didn’t say—“I’m not going to do anything until the Holy Spirit tells me what to do. He didn’t just sit and bemoan the fact that Jesus didn’t want him to go to Bithynia but Paul kept moving—thinking that “if we can’t go that way we’ll try this way”—But he listened for the direction of God’s Spirit as to where to move!!!   That is what we must learn from this scripture passage.

We listen for God’s Spirit to move us through prayer..   I’m sure Paul was in prayer most of the time.   We must never undertake any journey in the name of Christ except through prayer.   That is how the guidance of the Holy Spirit will come.

The English philosopher/political economist, John Stuaret Mill was prepare for his profession by a stern Scottish father, James Mill—himself a recognized philosopher/economist/ historian.   His father observed his son’s early brilliance and determined that the boy should be educated exhaustively in literature and the arts, science, history and philosophy.   However, he declared that religious learning was unnecessary and distracting, so he kept his son away from any religious education.   Later, John Stuart Mill (the son) declared, as he looked back on his youth, that he realized the profound sense of lostness and longing that had pervaded his heart.   Although his mind was crammed with information, John Stuart Mill declared his soul was “starved.”   Without the directional guidance of a God personally known through prayer and faith Mill likened himself to a well equipped ship, but with no sail.

How many of us are “ships without a sail today”?   In our personal lives and in our churches we are often without direction and work aimlessly and futilely to reach a vague destination that we do not know because we are not prayerful in communication with God.   And if God does communicate with us and his breath fills our sails—-are we willing to listen and rechart the direction of our lives as the Spirit leads us?   Because when God’s Spirit fills our sails we will often be taken into scary, ucharted waters.

I am fascinated by the fact that Paul never sat back and waited for God to give hims instructions.   God almost always seems to have to interrupt Paul on a journey.

Paul was on the road to Damascus to persecute the people of the Way when the Light hit him.

He had it in  his mind in the text today to go to Asia when God said, “Whoa” !

Then Macedonia opened up. Lydia was out there looking for God, a God seeker, a God fearer, when Paul came upon her and other women praying by the riverside in Philippi;

This leads me to think that maybe we need to get up and start doing what we think is God’s will now and trust that he will tell us what to do while we are on the way.   Maybe God never gives us more directions and more information than we need and until we have started moving in one direction, there is no need for God to correct us and tell us to change directions.   Perhaps to hear the voice of God as clearly and as fully as Paul heard it we have to be heading in some direction so that God can correct our movements..   Perhaps God will not give us more light than is needed for each step..

Our church is seeking a permanent pastor-–one that will work with us to build the church and to be a shepherd and a pastor to God’s people here in Eureka at Christian & Congregational Church.   The Search Committee cannot just sit and wait for God to send the pastor we need.   They must develop, through prayer, a clear idea of what that pastor should be.They must work and examine and search for a pastor—-but most importantly they must be in constant communication with God for guidance toward the right person—-the one that God intends for this church.  They must listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.   They must be willing to change their minds and change their directions as the Spirit leads them—-just as Paul was willing to be lead by the Spirit.  

We say we want to be a church that attracts children.   We have formed a task force to do that.   That task force must meet and discuss—-and work toward that goal—-but they will only be successful if they listen to God’s Spirit and let the Spirit lead them in directions they may have not thought possible. We must be able, through prayer to see what God’s picture of that church to attract children will be.   It will not perhaps be the pictre that the Task Forces has in its mind—it must be God’s picture.   That is only discerned by constantly talking and listening for God’s guidance.

God has a reason for this church to exist.   God has a purpose, a dream for this church to fulill in Eureka.   We must be open to the vision that will open to us as God leads us forward.   But meanwhile we must be striving to prayerfully find the answers to those questions I gave in the early part of this sermon:

  • WHAT IS OUR CONGREGATIONS PURPOSE FOR LIVING?
  • WHY IS OUR CONGREGATION HERE IN THIS SPECIFIC PLACE?
  • WHAT SPECIFICALLY IS GOD CALLING US TO DO AS HIS CHURCH?
  • WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH OUR SPIRITUAL GIFTS TO ANSWER THAT CALL?
  • HOW IS GOD USING US, OR WANTING TO USE US TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OUR WORLD—RIGHT HERE—RIGHT NOW?
  • As we struggle to answer these questions we must be prayerfully open to God’s Spirit and let that Spirit guide us to the answers that fulfill God’s dream for our church.   Once we have seen the vision, then we will be able to focus on it as Paul did..   Amen.

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.

 

 

 

d

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.