Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Christ is Supreme

II Kings 2:1-18, Luke 9:52-61, Colossians 1:15-23

The second in a summer sermon series on Paul's Letter to the Colossians.

You know the situation.
--The moral ambiguity of the surrounding culture
--Competing Voices for the allegiance of the people
--Questionable leadership, if not downright bad and evil leadership
--Cries of injustice raised by citizens
--Uncertainty and fear among citizens
--Military extending its power over civilians
--High tension with bordering nations
--Religious Establishment compromising its authenticity, ethics and spiritual life
--There is a major leadership change about to occur.

I am not talking about modern American society when I describe this situation, but rather, the life of the nation of Israel during the 840’s…BC.

In Scripture, Elijah was called THE Man of God. Emphasis on THE. But his ministry is coming to an end, and his successor had already been named. Elisha. The problem was Elisha was young and inexperienced, and the people weren’t quite sure that they wanted him being the head prophet.

But Elisha embodied Elijah’s lifestyle and message. They both affirmed that there was only One God, the LORD. They both confronted kings and religious leaders with their fiery temperaments. They both performed miracles to an unbelieving nation. They both appoint new kings. They both suffer rejection and rejection. They both have a deep reverence for history, especially God’s story. And at times, they both felt alone as they set out to do God’s will.

And as the world around them worshipped the god Baal, the storm God, it is Elijah who is taken up to heaven by the Almighty, who uses the storms for his purposes. Before Elijah goes up Elisha asks for double his power. After Elijah is lifted away (there is legend that Elijah never dies),, and Elisha is angry about it, so angry that he asks: Where is God now?, he strikes the water with the cloak, just like his predecessor had done, and the waters part, just like they did for Elijah. With Elisha taking over,

The people receive continuity, a fresh water in times of uncertainty.
The people have a spiritual leader, in times when earthly powers were colliding.
The people are invited to the same relationship with the One True God.

And after 800 years of history for Israel, with its constant ups and downs, God comes to earth. Jesus is born, grows up, and is ordained to public ministry. The Son of God witnesses to the truth, speaking to a rapidly changing culture with its moral ambiguity, competing voices, Questionable leadership, if not downright bad and evil leadership, Cries of injustice, Uncertainty and fear, Military powers, High tension and Compromised Religious Establishment. And just like the unpopular Elijah and Elisha, who in the midst of all of that chaos demanded the people stay true to the One God, so does Jesus.

He has some shocking and seemingly harsh words.
Like cold water they shock the body.
Like unexpected news, they shake the comfortable
Like a front page headline, they challenge the status quo.
But also,
Like a nutrition bar, they energize the body.
Like life changing news, they stir the soul.

Jesus looks at excuses. He stares at them, deeply. And then he answers them by putting them in their place.

Ironically, the third interaction resembles when Elijah met a young, up and coming prophet named Elisha. Elijah calls him to follow. Elisha requests “First let me go and kiss my family goodbye”.

Fred Craddock writes “the radicality of Jesus’ words lies in his claim to priority over the best, not the worst, of human relationships. The remarkable thing is that those who have done so have been freed from possession and worship of family and have found the distance necessary to love them.”

The words of Jesus are hard. But all good things are worth sacrifice. And the best things are worth the greatest sacrifices.

This brings us to Paul, writing to the church in Colosse. This week’s portion of the letter brings us face to face with that Jesus. Paul, writing 20-30 years after the death and resurrection of Christ, has time to place him in his historical importance. Teaching the Colossians, Jesus is…

• An image of the invisible God
• The firstborn of all creation
• The creator of all things (in heaven, earth, visible, invisible, thrones, powers, authorities)
• The One who IS before all things
• The One who holds all things together.
• Head of the body, the church
• The beginning and firstborn from the dead
• The supreme One
• The fullness of God in human flesh
• The reconciler of all things (earth, heaven, by making peace, through blood on the cross)

Christ is Supreme.

He is the reality of the changing world, with its moral ambiguity, competing voices, Questionable leadership, if not downright bad and evil leadership, Cries of injustice, Uncertainty and fear, Military powers, High tension and Compromised Religious Establishment.

He is the one, and there really is no other.

So like Elisha, we have a message to preach regardless of how it is received.
Like the people who approached Jesus, we have to hear what is really important and follow, and not look back.
Like the Colossians, we have to remember the story…

We were alienated from God.
We were enemies with God because we were evil.
We have been reconciled to God by Christ and his physical death and resurrection
We are now holy in his sight, without blemish, free from accusation….IF

IF we continue in faith,
IF we are not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.

The gospel has been proclaimed to every creature in heaven and earth.
Are you looking back? Or are you looking to Jesus Christ, the Supreme One.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

We'll Sing in the Sunshine

Yes you can sing in the sunshine
You can laugh everyday
You can sing in the sunshine
And you can find your way
--Gale Garnett

The scene was the beautiful Woolverton Inn, in Stockton NJ. The event: Stockton Elementary School Graduation. Congratulations to our four graduates as they continue their studies at South Hunterdon High School.

As part of the quaint celebration, the teachers, board of Ed, PTO, Parents of Graduates, Students and finally all gathered, each sing a verse of an adaptation of "We'll Sing in the Sunshine".

To sit together with the beautiful grounds around us, for a common purpose, howling this good old song, was quite a beautiful experience. I'm proud to be a part of the Stockton Elementary School community.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wednesday Worship in July

One of the most beautiful spots in all the world is located a mile from our house: the riverview at the Wing Dam, at Prallsville Mills.

Each Wednesday in July, we will gather at 7:30 at the river view for Wednesday Worship: Down By the Riverside. The worship service will be an informal and brief service that allows us to connect with God our Creator.

If traveling by car, you can take route 29 north past the town of Stockton, and you will see a "Prallsville Mills, Stockton Visitor Center" parking lot on your left. If you are walking the towpath from town, turn left right past the new Prallsville Mill Office.

If it is raining, don't come...or at least don't come looking for a service. Unofficially, I would encourage you never to be afraid of getting a little wet. Officially, we will not have a service if raining.


In All the World

In All the World
I Kings 19:1-8, Matthew 10:32-42, Colossians 1:1-14

This is the first in a summer sermon series on Paul's Letter to the Colossians. When I proclaim the sermons during Sunday worship, I will be using a more expository method, opening up the Bible together and talking about the verses...So this sermon works better in person. Hint. Hint. Stockton Presbyterian worship starts at 11am.

In his introductory statements, Paul greets the Colossian church with
THANKSGIVING (verses 3-8)
Among other things, he is grateful for the update he hears about his readers:
We HEARD ABOUT your faith in Christ and love for all people
Faith and love SPRINGS from Hope.

Just like I Corinthians, here is that ethical trinity again> Faith. Hope. Love. When we live lives of faith, hope and love, they speak a story. This story is heard by others. Your faith, hope and love make a difference in this world.

Paul is also grateful for the truth: we have hope because of heaven. We have hope because of the truth of the gospel. Hope is growing all throughout the world. For example, Samaritan's Purse recently told the story of delivering over 200,000 Christmas Boxes to the people of Afghanistan, where there are no official churches. They were delivering hope, even when of great personal sacrifice.

Paul is also grateful for Ephaphras: a Loved, faithful, connectional servant, who saw the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the believers in Colosse.

After sharing his reasons for gratitude, Paul then offers his prayer for the church.
PRAYER (verses 9-11)
--Know what God want.
--Great wisdom and understanding so that we will live an honorable life and one that pleases God.

What is a life pleasing to God?

There are a mulitude of examples, but Paul provides four ways...

  1. Producing fruit in every good work.
  2. Growing in the knowledge of God.
  3. Not giving up when trouble comes (because you have God’s strength)
  4. Giving Thanks. (Why not take the time to tell God 10 things you are thankful for each day?)

After offering blessing and prayer, Paul lays the foundation for our faith: WHAT GOD HAS DONE (verses 12-14)
--Qualified us to share in the people of light’s inheritance
--Rescued and freed us from darkness
--Brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.
--Christ paid for our sins
--Christ has forgiven us.

Sometimes we are like Elijah, We feel down, deserted, doubtful. We all need to look to Christ,
Who asks complete allegiance (because he can), who demands our all, who warns us about looking at earth before heaven.

Colossians teaches us about the good news growing in all the world.
Be a part of the good news. Be it. Live it. Believe it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wicked Awesome

This past Monday, my wife and I celebrated seven years of marriage. She is the most beautiful woman in the world, and I am deeply honored to parent alongside her.

Our anniversary turned into "Anniversary Weekend Festivities" thanks to Aurie's mom.

We were able to spend a fun day in New Hope, the quaint local town across the river which whenever we drive through, we say to one another that we have to mosey throughout. Well, we did, and it was great.

We were able to spend a night at the Woolverton Inn, a delightful Inn in Stockton. Many props to Carolyn for her fine work as innkeeper. It is a wonderful place...one of those places in life where you feel God's Spirit dwell because of the unique beauty that dwells in that space.

And then up to Bean town. We were able to see a Phils/Red Sox game, which was fun. This was after a tour of Fenway Park (in which I was able to touch the Green Monstah), and a fun time at the park's outdoor pregame celebrations.

We were also able to walk around downtown for several hours. Our hotel was downtown, and that was a really great experience. We both really love Boston.

During our last night in town, we were sitting at an outdoor tavern waiting for our dinner, when who walks by but Brian Schubmehl, an old friend from Western New York. I only know about 5 people who live in Boston, but one of them walks by when we are having dinner. How delightful is that?

So all in all, Boston is a great place to explore in God's great world. A cradle of liberty in our nation's history, wonderful architecture and great site-seeing, plus the Sox. I highly recommend Boston for everyone to visit. And since they have added the big dig, (route 93, underground through town), even the traffic wasn't bad...

well, I shouldn't get too carried away.

Thanks to Elder Dan Serlenga from Lambertville, who led worship and allowed me the peace of knowing the worship service was in good hands.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Ordinary

The Ordinary
Psalm 19:14, Luke 15:11-30, Colossians 3:12-17

We've come to the second half of "Ordinary Time" on the church calendar. We will remain in Ordinary Time until the last week of the year: Christ the King Sunday.

Some people struggle with the idea of Ordinary time, after all, shouldn't each day be special and all of life celebrated? But much of life is ordinary, and the calendar speaks to us about faithfulness in the midst of common life. In fact, our spiritual pulse might best be reflected in how we live the ordinary stuff of life, rather than how great we feel when things are well or how down we are when things are struggling.

Today, we read the classic story of the Prodigal Son. In the parable: we are all three characters at different points in our lives. We identify with the Father whenever we are looking out for someone else. We identify with the younger son in the moments when we feel our sinfulness.
Let’s look at the elder son--is He the one most of us identify with in our ordinary lives?

What does the parable say about the behavior of the son?

  • Anger immediately limited the elder son’s ability to see and empathize.
  • The elder sons anger keeps him out of the celebration.
  • The older son distracted the father from the celebration.
  • The older son was faithful, obedient and reliable in his work and ethic.
  • The older son was wrong to be jealous of the younger son’s waywardness. The younger son who squandered his life, his story ended well, but he did not live well.
  • The older son was always in the presence and heart of the father.
  • Everything that belonged to the Father belonged to the older son.
  • The Father had to celebrate the return from death and lost-ness of the younger son.

What does the older son model to us about ordinary life?

  • It is better to be faithful and content than faithful and angry.
  • It is good to be faithful and do what is required of us, better than going off to squander life.
  • The entire human spectrum, from wayward to righteous, is in our lives.
  • The ordinary is a gift to us. Most of life is the ordinary. (life is not one big party)
  • The ordinary is in close proximity to the extraordinary (surprise and celebration are not far away when we live faithfully and well.)
  • Before we think too highly of ourselves, the teaching is directed entirely to the older son.
  • Don’t shut yourself out of the celebration.

Offering ourselves to God

Instead of shutting ourselves out of the celebration of God's reign, we should offer ourselves to God.

Psalm 19:14 teaches us to offer our words and thoughts.

Colossians 3 teaches us to offer our words and deeds to the glory of God.

Colossians 3 in light of the Parable:

How does Paul teach his readers to behave?
Peace of Christ
God’s word dwelling in you
Sing praise to God

Did the older son display these attributes? He hadn't seen his brother in years, and didn't even go to greet him. He speaks ill of his brother, even though the Father already knows the things the older son says. He was proud and insecure, styfling celebration.

One commentary I read identified a profound thought:
We all need the third son in the parable, the teacher, the Son of God.

Jesus displayed the perfect moral life, unlike the younger son. Jesus displayed perfect grace, unlike the elder son. Jesus Christ is full of grace and truth.

When we follow Jesus, we have all the adventure that the younger son was seeking, and all the stability the elder son lived.

Jesus allows us to live extraordinary lives in ordinary time.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Holy X's 3

Isaiah 6, John 16:12-15, Romans 5:-15 5/30

Isaiah 6: Image of the glory of God

Today you entered into a sanctuary, a holy place, to pray. You have been here before, many times before. You have taken part in priestly duties. This place has been your spiritual home, where you sing, cry, laugh, wonder, believe, dream, listen and grow.

Today you walked into this holy place, and you see something magnificent. Something majestic. Pens cannot create words to do justice to what you see. The building is filled with a long train of a robe, Hundreds and hundreds of feet of robe. It is the most beautiful robe you have ever seen, one that must be worn by a king.

Then you look up above the sanctuary and you see God. Your faith has taught you that if you see God, you will die. No one must see God and live. But you see God, the Lord, the Almighty One, high above this holy place, exalted above the earth, seated on a throne.

As you look up to God, you see that you and God are not alone. Heavenly angels with six wings fly above God, covering themselves out of reverence for of the holiness of God. They are not worthy to look, but as they fly to sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory”.

The song is so loud that the doorpost and doorsill shake. Smoke fills the holy place where you stand.

And you are in trouble. You’ve seen God, Your human eyes have seen perfection. “Woe is me”, you cry. I am done. I’m finished. I’m ruined. Because I am unclean, and the people all around me are unclean, the whole nation is unclean. My lips are unclean and I have seen God.

But just then, one of the angels from above God flies down, and looks around the sanctuary, and finds the coal that is used for the sacrifices. The angel takes a tong from the altar, picks up the fiery coal and places it on your lips. “Your guilt is now taken away and your sin is atoned for”. Relief. Forgiveness. Mercy. All is right again.

Before you become too comfortable, you hear the voice of God who sits on the throne. “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Us?

Having your sin atoned for, your guilt taken away, your good standing with God restored, you offer to go. “Here I am God, send me.” Surely, a good assignment is now coming, you rationalize. I will go tell good news. People will gather around me to hear about my experience, and we will all change our ways. We will return to what is good and right. I get to bring good news to the people.

And then the voice responds: Go and tell this people

“This people”, you think. Uh, oh.
You’ll be hearing, but you won’t get it.
You’ll be seeing, but you won’t understand.
Your hearts will be hard. Your ears will be dull. Your eyes will be closed. Because otherwise, you might actually see and hear and understand and turn and be healed.

Ouch., you think to yourself. But God has healed you. And you have said you will go. And you must do what you say you will do.

For how long, Lord?

Until the cities lie in ruins and no one lives there. Until houses and fields have been deserted. Until I have sent everyone away and the land is utterly forsaken, until only a tenth remains of what did exist. Trees that have been cut down have left stumps. But out of a stump will my holy seed grow.

Israel, during Isaiah’s time as a prophet, is taken away in judgment by the Assyrian empire. The hopes and dreams of the people interrupted. They had not turned to be healed. They did not want to see or hear or understand.

We often will read the first part of the story, because this story in its beginning reminds us of the holiness of God. It is harder to swallow that sometimes, God calls his people to speak a more difficult message. God’s holiness demands that sin and evil be accounted for. A just God cannot and will not let evil be victorious. Isaiah had to go and speak to the people. You and I are called to go and serve the Lord. Often with good news, other times with realistic news. But even our delivery of realistic news is shared with people to bring glory to God.

Today is Trinity Sunday. It is a reminder of the majesty and mystery of God. It is a day to pause and consider that we serve a Holy God. Angels and saints and heavenly creatures, whenever they are before God, are always crying out, or singing out (with loud voices) Holy, Holy, Holy!

Trinity Sunday reminds Christians that we have a mystery at the core of our faith: One God in three persons. Not three gods. Not one person. One God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our faith should be like Isaiah in that we understand our sinfulness, and cry for help. Our faith should be like the angels who proclaim the truth: God is holy, holy, holy. The whole earth is full of his glory.

The Gospel of John: How we know
The gospel of John passage speaks to how we know God. We do not know God because of our own attempts, but rather, God’s spirit coming to us and revealing God. Jesus taught us that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth: guides into all truth, speaks for Almighty God, brings glory to God by showing us God.

There might be days of cloudiness, days of darkness, but the trajectory of our life is that the Spirit is revealing God to us. We are not without a testimony to God’s presence. The Spirit lives within us, both in our hearts and in our community.

Romans: Finding Peace with God

Paul’s letter teaches us about how we encounter God.
Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

No angel has come down and placed a burning coal on your lips to clean your guilty self. But rather, faith in Christ has made you whole. Faith in Christ has placed you right with God. We have taken Christ’s name and identity. We belong to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For every departure from God’s ways is guilt, there is no intermediate neutral position with regard to the demand of the will of God. At all times we stand either in the grace of God or under judgment.
The reality is that Christ’s grace has given us peace with God. We have…

A peace and a freedom which are independent of outward success or failure.
--Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12, Old Testament Library

What is our response to the Holy Trinity? There is an ethical trinity as well. Paul identifies it in the Romans passage.
Faith in Jesus Christ
Hope in the glory of God
Love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit
(Three things endure: faith hope and love.)

Isaiah’s story is important, because of Jesus Christ, someday, we will see God. We will live and dwell in God’s presence. But the way we encounter God this day is not necessarily by vision, but rather faith. We believe.

We believe in One God. Almighty God, his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit moves us toward truth.

A Perfect Halladay Weekend

This is a title I heard after Roy Halladay pitched his perfect game on Saturday. I was able to catch the game from the 5th inning on, and it was a pleasure to watch.

Not that I am complaining or anything, but I was so excited after watching that game, that it took me a few hours to fall asleep. But I suppose you can always sleep later.

That was really fun to watch. Baseball is such a symbol of life...you just never know what a day will bring.

On the Community Garden front, we had 10 volunteers work on Saturday. The garden is about 2/3 full of plants and seeds, and is a delight to watch. I'm so proud of everyone's efforts, and the hard work they put in.