Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Friend from Long Ago

Some of the stories special to me as I sell my book

Having moved back to the area where I grew up has been a delightful experience.   From time to time, I will drive and see places that once were familiar to me, and say prayers or have thoughts of the homes, years before, that I had spent time in.

I remember playing with Scott, who lived on Rock Road.  He moved away near the end of elementary school.   Years went by without thinking much about him, and through Facebook arose the chance to see his posts, including a delightful picture of him and his daughter.  A truly beautiful picture, one that makes you happy, knowing how happy it makes the people in it.

I had opportunity to sell my book at the Shad Festival last weekend.  Many thanks to the Lambertville Presbyterian Church for their kindness in letting me set up a table.

Well, sure enough, Scott walked up with his family.  He, and his love, their children, and grandma.  Yes, it took me a minute to put two and two together.  We took a few minutes to catch up on life's basics.  And they went on their way, enjoying a wonderful day at the Shad Festival.  Happiness came to me, and stayed throughout the day, by way of this wonderful moment.

The next day, I received a message from Scott.  Dana had read their book to the children that night.

What a special thing.  How deeply I feel gratitude.  I am grateful that this story went into a home of someone, who, when I was seven, was part of my childhood.  Thirty five years later, my daughter is seven.  And my love story to her is one that resonates with people throughout this land, including people like Scott.

Tonight, I finished an amazing book:  Marilynne Robinson's Home.  What an amazing book, and almost as good, in my mind, as Gilead.  Marilynne ends the book, with the main character acknowledging, "The Lord is wonderful".

I join in that truth as I think about life's friends:  the Lord is wonderful.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Path of Discipleship: Study Hall

Study Hall                                      4/26/15
Psalm 78:1-8, Matthew 11:25-30
The Path of Discipleship:  Sermon 8 in series

One year while in high school, I chose to take a study hall as one of my electives.  I have three remembrances of that time in the South Hunterdon Cafeteria.
1.       Only the first half of the 45 minute period had to be quiet, during the second half you could move around and talk with your friends.
2.       They opened the cafeteria during the second half of the period, and usually freshly baked chocolate chip cookies were sold.  They were so good.
3.       I remember playing paper football during the period.

You may notice there is one key word missing in my recollections of my least productive elective in high school:  Study.

My hope is that we do not approach Sunday morning like a study hall:  a place where most people ignore the opportunity before them in order to goof off and waste time before you are “freed” to do what you want.  

We’ve been talking during Lent and Easter about Discipleship.  Christians, by their very name, are disciples:  we are followers of Jesus Christ.  The three congregations in our shared staffing agreement are talking about specific ways in which to better our relationship with Jesus Christ.  We are looking at a guide that will move us from tourist to participant in the Christian faith.  At the end of Easter, I’ll be asking you to choose specific steps you want to take in 2015.  Today, we speak about Christian Education.

Stockton currently offers Christian Education opportunities.  They might not compare with the waning years of Christendom, but they are doing some good things.
Our Sunday School is led by good, salt of the earth teachers, who care for the five regular students, and are consistent in their teaching Christian faith to these regulars.  Our Palm Sunday play showed all of us that there is depth of spirit in our young people.  Would it be great to have 20 students each week?  Yes.  But perhaps the next step is to invite those who have received baptism in this place to learn about the One who has claimed them.

We do offer Christian Education to our community through Vacation Bible School.  Would it be good to have more of the participants from VBS attend here regularly?  Yes.  But by attending VBS, they receive 15 hours of instruction in Christ’s message.  For some, they receive more in one week than a person who comes to Sunday School only 2 or 3 times a year.  This year, Ellie Brehme will be directing VBS, and we will partner with Nueva Esperanza and Grace Church from Titusville. 

Christian Education is not only for children.  It should be complemented by opportunities for all ages.  We do offer Friday morning Bible Study, as well as our annual Delaware Valley Summer Institute with our sister churches.  What we do not do, and might be helpful, is offer a Sunday morning class for adults.  If there is someone who would like to convene a group, we invite your prayerful consideration.

In short, as a small congregation, we do some things, and I am grateful for all who give of their time and energy.  I appreciate the devotion rooted under the work.  This week, I had coffee with David Shearer, we had a delightful conversation, which included an analogy he has been thinking about.  I’ve asked him to share at this time.

(illustration of the energy needed to take care of landscape)

When I think of David’s words, and Christian Education, the phrase that comes to mind is “its worth the effort”.  The Biblical support we will use this morning comes from a prayer and teaching from Jesus Christ, and a prayer and song from Asaph, storied singer of the Ancient Hebrews.

Jesus essentially tells his disciples that they shouldn’t always look for the flashy, the most deserving, the obvious.  God’s ways are mysterious and holy.  I think there is something delightful that 5 children in a small campus are hearing about Jesus and learning.  It goes against the grain of conventional wisdom.  Why was this so?  “Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (11:26)

God’s good pleasure is the phrase that can provide us fascination.  The Scripture provides some clues as to what gives God pleasure.
  • In the book of Haggai, where the people were being commanded to rebuild the temple of God, the reconstruction was to be done so that God would have pleasure in what was created.
  • In Ephesians, Paul writes that people who believe in Jesus have been predestined to be adopted as God’s children in Christ:  This was God’s pleasure.
  • Also in Ephesians, Paul writes that it is God’s pleasure to make know his will to us.

We also learn about what does not give God pleasure, according to Scripture:
  • God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked
  • God does not take pleasure in anyone’s death
  • God does not take pleasure in wickedness and ungodliness.
  • God does not take pleasure in the blood of bulls and the sacrificial offerings
  • God does not take pleasure in evil.
But God does take pleasure in the ways that his truth is made known to those who will believe.  John Calvin, commenting on why God’s wisdom is sometimes hidden from the wise and learned writes:    (New Testament Commentaries:  A Harmony of the Gospels, Vol II)
As the flesh is too greedy in self-praise, if the clever and learned were put first, the idea would soon hold sway that men acquired faith by their own skill or industry or learning. (21)


The reason why human wisdom is cast down is that it may not obscure the praise of the divine grace  (22)

If we accept the kingdom of God like a child, we may enter it, Jesus says elsewhere.  Here, he prays a prayer of thanks, that the children have received a gift.  And the grace that we find in this exchange brings pleasure to God.

God sent Jesus Christ into the world so that people might believe in him and be saved.  The end goal that Jesus invites us is to come to him, to learn from him (11:28).  When we come to Jesus, we find rest for our souls.  We find Christ’s yoke easy and his burden light.  Yokes unite two animals like ox, to work together.  A properly fitting yoke allows less of a burden on the animal.   Ancient farming practices often linked an experienced ox with a young beginner.  We find ourselves yoked with Jesus Christ when we come to him. 

Douglas Hare writes “Jesus may be saying: “Become my yoke mate, and learn how to pull the load by working beside me and watching how I do it.  The heavy labor will seem lighter when you allow me to help you with it.”

In other news, Hank Aaron and I have combined to hit 756 home runs in our careers. 

When we think of Christian Education, we should be asking, are people learning about Jesus Christ, his teaching and his call to follow. 

Asaph, the song writer from Israel, cements our work in its proper foundation.  Asaph set up a school of music during the time of David and Solomon, and has 12 of the psalms attributed to him.  Asaph uses history in Psalm 78 to teach us what our job is in preserving the faith, and why it is important.

When we think about Christian Education, teaching people about Jesus, what is our job?  Psalm 78 proclaims it is to open our mouth and tell the next generation.

When we open our mouth, we should declare hidden things and things from of old.  We should declare what we have heard and known.   We should tell what our parents told us.  What valuable advice!  The content of our teaching should include instruction that might not always be highlighted in the world.  We should lift up those practices that have steadied God’s people throughout the generations.  We should teach the next generation what we have experienced:  those things we have remembered hearing and the things we have come to know are true.  And yes, sometimes our mothers and fathers proved to be wise, and what they instilled within us is worth telling again, even if it takes a few years for those seeds to grow.  It is funny how my father was so wrong about everything when I was 18, and so right about so many things when I turned 40.

We tell the next generation about the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power and his wonders.  That is the most honored content that we should deliver.
Asaph tells us our job, and he tells us why we should do our job.  Why should we open our mouths?
·         Because God has decreed laws for his people, and therefore, they are important to hear and know. 
  • Because God has commanded that his ways be taught.
  • we tell so that the next generation might know
  • we tell so that unborn generations might know  (have we thought about the gospel message for your grandchildren’s grandchildren?
  • So that people might put their trust in God, not forget his deeds, and keep his commands.
  • Asaph also mentions so that stubbornness and unfaithfulness will not prevail and people will not forget the Lord.  Humanity without God would be a bunch of demons.

One man in Scripture who became like a demon, like an animal, was King Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.  And yet, when he repented and believed, God rescued him:  He was then able to pronounce to the nations his pleasure:
It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.  How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders!  His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation (Daniel 4:2-3)

When we invest in the story that has come to us, open our mouths and tell it to people, including those newer and younger than us, we invest in what pleases God!  God’s pleasure becomes our pleasure, and God’s pleasure fills us with life.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I Hope They Are Well

Some of the stories special to me as I sell my book

One of the special sales I made was to a family with a young daughter with special medical needs.  It was one of those situations where the more you talked, the more you found out you had in common.

This family were foster parents to a medically fragile child. They foster in Pennsylvania, but we are in a similar program in New Jersey.  It was obvious the love they had for their daughter. 

We also shared a connection in that we both were graduates of Philadelphia College of Bible.  I was a few classes ahead of him, but he was pursuing pastoral ministry.

It is always delightful to find people that you share so much in common.  Our paths crossed on this day, and perhaps will not cross again in this world.  But it was delightful to share stories, to laugh together because of our firsthand knowledge of balancing church and children.  I wish peace upon the family.

My TIme at Stockton Elementary

Some of the stories special to me as I sell my book

One of the most special days that I've had in selling my book was an afternoon that I traveled across the street to the local elementary school, Stockton Elementary.  While our children are home schooled, I have a great care and delight in our school community.   I've was on the School board for 4 years, and president for 6 months.  I know many of the families, and enjoy the sound of children playing during recess and after school.

Principal Suzanne Ivans had invited me to come and read my book to the students.  We broke the event into two times.  The first group was the 4-6th grade students, followed by the younger students.  (It should be noted that Stockton is one of New Jersey's oldest, and smallest public schools, with under 60 students, kindergarten through 6th grade.  The attention the students receive is comparable to a private school. 

I had a great time with the students.  After reading my story, I answered at least 30 questions that the students had.  And the questions were really thought-provoking.  I was so impressed with these students.  I've been in Stockton long enough that the 6th grade class started at the school the same year I arrived in our town, so I've watched them grow up.   And if they tackle everything in life with that same spirit, there were many in that room that will do well!

The younger students were so cute.  This one girl couldn't understand that I didn't draw the pictures myself.  She must have asked me 5 times if I liked drawing the pictures.  It's ok, she has time :)   Maybe by my second or third book, she'll be a smart leader among the upper elementary students.  Until then, I'm glad she thinks I have artistic talent!

All in all, a delightful day among a great school community.

I Know This Grandma is Good on Her Word

Some of the stories special to me as I sell my book

Before Christmas, a grandmother purchased my book.  During our conversation, she revealed that she loves collecting Children's Books.  She has them in her home for when her grandchildren come to visit.  I easily imagined a warm and welcoming home, where this woman would welcome her children's children with open arms, and a safe space to be themselves and cuddle near with a good book.

I signed the book for her and all the generations that would gather in her home.   Just then, the woman's daughter yelled out, "Oh, hello Mr. Good".

"Mrs. Nelson!".

Well, my daughter's tutor's mother just bought my book.  Here I was offering words of blessing on this women's grandchildren, and it turns out I know them.  What a special moment that was! 

My First Sale

Some of the stories special to me as I sell my book

What was my first sale at Peddler's Village?  Sam.

I've thoroughly enjoyed the open invitation from Canterbury Tales Forever owner Wayne for me to set up table outside his shop and promote my book. It was quite exciting when I went over one Friday night three weeks before Christmas.  I would go over for an hour or two, since it was quite cold and the sun had set.  It would get my feet wet for the next morning.

A man inquired about my book, and came out with a purchase.  His name was Sam, and he asked that I sign it to him.  I thought about writing on the front page "to my first customer", but I wanted to seem more confident than that :)

The next day, I was not the only author selling my book.  I looked up, and there was Sam!  He also had a children's book, Monty: a Christmas Story.  The story surrounds a basset hound who overcomes his differences to find his home. 

I've spend several days together with Sam at Peddler's Village.  This past week, our first since the cold Christmas season, we delighted in the warmth of the spring sun.  He is a really great guy, and every time I go, I hope he is there.  He is a great salesmen, and I've learned so much from him.   Plus, during the slow moments, we catch up on life, joke around, and talk about all sorts of things. 

Sam's book is self-published.  The illustrator he hired did very nice work, and the story is sweet.  He is not on Amazon, so if you are a basset hound fan in need of a great children's story, let me know and I'll get you his contact information.


Some of the stories special to me as I sell my book

Amanda was a sweet little child, happy and young.  Her face was painted by my friend LaNelle during the Spring Fling Festival at Peddler's Village.  She struck me as someone who would really get along with my children.  She was shopping with her mother.

After the mother purchased the book, I was signing it and in passing I mentioned her father.  The mother paused and looked at me and shared that Amanda's father was 'in heaven'.  You could tell that time, and the Lord, had brought some healing to them.  They spoke truthfully, and were able to continue conversation without change in their countenance.  All the while, I was praying that this book would be helpful for this family.

I wrote a message in Amanda's book, that she know the love of her family, those both near and far.  I hope that Amanda will stay close to the Lord all the days of her life, and will enjoy that day of God's resurrection, when she is reunited with her father.

All the Way to Vermont

Some of the stories special to me as I sell my book

A Young Mother was touring the Village with her husband and child, who was a toddler.  They were a happy couple, though I could tell that the father was ready to move on when the mother stopped to inquire of my book.

She opened the cover and gasped with excitement:  "You are a believer!"  She had read my dedication page, which offers all glory to God.  I shared that indeed, I was.

Hurrying inside, she comes out with a book, and asks that I make it out to her husband:  This is going to be a Christmas gift for him.  And with that, she was off.

Later, I saw her and her family dancing to a Christmas Quartet that warmed the village with Christmas carols.  The three of them looked very happy.  I hope they are!

It was fun to consider that, with this purchase, my book made it to Vermont.  I know with Amazon and the internet, we are connected like never before.  But there is something about the book making its way throughout the world that is attractive to me.

A quick aside:  I didn't give too much thought to putting "glory to God" as part of my dedication.  As the Westminster Catechism reminds us:  It is our chief aim as human beings!   But is has come back to me again and again as I meet with people and talk.  Hopefully selling lots of copies, and dedicating to God's glory are not mutually exclusive, but the glory to God really does shape my thoughts.  My next story is of a young girl named Amanda.

We Just Met our First Author

Some of the stories special to me as I sell my book

I was at Peddler's Village during Christmastime, selling my book on a Friday night thanks to my friend Wayne at Canterbury Tales Forever, the book shop in the Village.

The store is located around the corner from Hart's Tavern and the Cock-n-bull restaurant, two popular eateries.  A family with two young boys came up and we had a conversation while they were waiting to meet their grandmother and enjoy dinner together. After their purchase, I thanked the young boys, probably 3 and 4, and wished them a delightful time with their grandmother.

After the meal, grandma and her family came out to meet me.  When the two boys had entered the tavern, they ran up to their grandmother and said "grandma, we just met our first author".

Friday, April 17, 2015

Think About Such Things

Think About Such Things                                   4/19/15
Philippians 4:8-9, John 1:43-51
Sermon 6 in the Path of Discipleship series

Where were you when Jesus saw you?

Nathaniel was sitting under a fig tree.  Shaded by its branches, he sat in quiet.  Why?  Was he on a short break from his work in a field?  Was it a common practice of his to find a place to meditate? Was he having a bad day, and needed to have let his thoughts stew?  Was he in trouble, and running away from something?  Was he in the moment, just taking a break to think about life?  We don’t know.  He may have been thinking about the story of Jacob’s ladder.

Jacob left Beersheba and went to Haran. He came to a certain place and camped for the night since the sun had set. He took one of the stones there, set it under his head and lay down to sleep. And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground and it reached all the way to the sky; angels of God were going up and going down on it.
13-15 Then God was right before him, saying, “I am God, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. I’m giving the ground on which you are sleeping to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will be as the dust of the Earth; they’ll stretch from west to east and from north to south. All the families of the Earth will bless themselves in you and your descendants. Yes. I’ll stay with you, I’ll protect you wherever you go, and I’ll bring you back to this very ground. I’ll stick with you until I’ve done everything I promised you.”
16-17 Jacob woke up from his sleep. He said, “God is in this place—truly. And I didn’t even know it!” He was terrified. He whispered in awe, “Incredible. Wonderful. Holy. This is God’s House. This is the Gate of Heaven.”
18-19 Jacob was up first thing in the morning. He took the stone he had used for his pillow and stood it up as a memorial pillar and poured oil over it. He christened the place Bethel (God’s House). The name of the town had been Luz until then.
20-22 Jacob vowed a vow: “If God stands by me and protects me on this journey on which I’m setting out, keeps me in food and clothing, and brings me back in one piece to my father’s house, this God will be my God. This stone that I have set up as a memorial pillar will mark this as a place where God lives. And everything you give me, I’ll return a tenth to you.”     Genesis 28:10-22, The Message

Nathaniel sat under the fig tree and thought.  And in the middle of his thought, he heard his name called out.  It was Philip.

I’ve found him!  Philip exclaimed.

Who are you talking to Philip?  Nathanial might have asked, it is just you and me here.

No, Nathanial.  I was looking for you because I found him.  The One!  The Messiah.  The One Moses wrote about.  The One the prophets dreamed about.  He is here, Jesus of Nazareth.

At this, Nathanial’s heart sank.  The Messiah from garbage town?  I don’t think so.  Can anything good come from that place, Philip?

To which Nathanial received the classic reply:  “Come and see.”

Nathanial did just this.  He went to go see Jesus.

And as Nathanial and Philip go back into town, Jesus sees the two coming, and in front of the those around him, he speaks about Nathanial, whom he had never met.  “Well look here folks, here is a true Israelite!  There is nothing false about this man”.  It is quite an introduction, even more so that Jesus is saying this.  It must be true.  If we are looking for Nathanial to redirect the conversation, or eat a piece of humble pie, we won’t find it in this story.  “How do you know me?” he responds.

“I saw you when you were sitting in the shade of the fig tree”.  Now, Jesus has Nathanial’s attention.  Nathanial had worked hard to be alone.  No one knew his spot.  Philip found him after a lot of searching.  That was his cherished, secret spot.  No one knew.  But Jesus knew.

After  Nathanial proclaims Jesus Son of God and King of Israel, Jesus says to him:  This thing that has you giving me praise, its nothing really.  You’ll see greater things than that.  In fact, you’ll see heaven open and the angels will ascend and descend all travel by way of me.

Perhaps Nathanial now understood Jacob’s dream.
--He thought about God’s presence while sitting in that shade, but right before him was
   God in human flesh.
--He wondered about his journey and hoped for security, but there before Nathanial stood
   God his protector.
--He hoped he might have the food he needed, but here was the bread of life.
--He hoped to be safe throughout the journey, but here was one in whom Nathanial could
   feel safe.
--Nathanial had used that fig tree as a place to meet God, but God was alive in more
  powerful ways than simply through the places which commemorated him.
--To give a tenth of all that Nathanial had received was surely what the law required, but
   before him stood the Fulfillment of the Law.  Here before him was one who was the
   Truest Israelite, perfect and righteous.

And so Nathanial followed him.

The church in Philippi was one that lived in general peace and joy.  Paul had little trouble singing his praise for them.  His letter to them is one of the church’s most beloved, and has some of the most well known phrases.   In today’s reading, Paul invites the Philippians to use their minds to contemplate the best.

Think about what is true. 
Think about what is noble.
Think about what is right.
Think about what is pure.
Think about what is lovely.
Think about what is admirable.
Think about what is excellent and praiseworthy.
Think about such things.

If we were to stop and consider these words for their real value, we would have to change our ways.  But the freedom and beauty we would find would be so incomparable to the struggle that we feel now.

We have to be informed, but we don’t have to fall prey to news cycles and bullet points that are shaped with so much fear and folly.   The talk radio we choose might not focus on things worth talking about.  The front pages of stories might miss the most important news.    Thinking about true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praise worthy things is more real that the drama created by media.  All of these things weigh their counterpart appropriately.

Truth has to consider falsehood.
Nobility acknowledges that which is less.
Right knows there is wrong.
Purity understands there is also impure.
Lovely can see where unlovely has walked.
Admirable is neighbors which some who are not.
Excellence shines because of shoddiness.
Praise goes back to God, glad it can be lifted up.

The truth is that what is true requires a lifetime of exploration.
The truth is that it requires great strength to be noble.
The truth is that the simplest way is often to do what is right.
The truth is that purity allows us to see God.
The truth is that love endures forever.
The truth is that which is admirable is worth pursuing and implementing into our lives.
The truth is that excellence is worth the effort.
The truth is that praise is our best offering.

To think about such things is an honor, and a blessing.

During Lent and Easter, we have been traveling down the Path of Discipleship.  We have focused on a Map that provides steps to take to become better disciples of the Lord.  2015 is the opportunity to take steps in your discipleship.  The Map provides columns that move you from being someone who attends looks at God from a tourist perspective to that which looks at God from based on an intimate knowledge that comes from travel and fellowship.  Jacob had seen the Lord’s faithfulness to him.  Nathanial and Philip followed Jesus after he called them.  You and I are also to follow.

Today, we highlight the small groups column of the Map.  While it is good to practice what Paul preaches, and while it is good to find that fig tree to contemplate the works of God, our faith should grow within a network of support and encouragement that small groups can bring.

At Stockton, we have our Friday morning Bible study.  This is an open group, and you are welcome to attend.  The Women also have a retreat coming up, which acts like a small group.  On Wednesday mornings, there is also the chance to attend the Iron Men’s Small group that gathers at Titusville, but open to all the men from the 3 church partnership.  The Choir acts like a small group in its support and encouragement.

There are other chances to be part of small groups on the campus that are not directly related to the church.  AA meets twice a week if you a community to support you in your sobriety.  The Book Club meets once a month and has nurtured solid friendship.  I also had two nice conversations this week with a group called The Suppers program, a nationwide grass roots campaign to eat healthy today in a supportive environment.  Perhaps they have a future on this campus.

The best thing about Stockton church is that it is a people that have met Jesus Christ.  We proclaim him Son of God and King of Kings.  Someone like Philip found us and invited us to this place to meet Jesus.  Like Nathanial, we may have had our doubts along the way.  But like Nathanial, when Jesus met us, we have called him who he is.  Doing so opens the door to a new purpose in life:  one of truth and nobility, righteousness and purity, loveliness and that which is admirable, excellence and praise.  At the end of the day it’s quite simple: think about such things.  They’ll fill you with all you need, and more!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Lord's Supper

The Lord’s Supper                                          4/12/15
Luke 22:7-27,  I Corinthians 11:17-34, John 13:34-35

In the protestant church, there are two sacraments, the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.  A sacrament is a means of grace.  By participating, we experience a deeper sense of the Lord.

The sacraments were given for believers.  Believers should show their faith publicly.  We are followers of the Lord, disciples.

We’ve been taking the path of discipleship throughout Lent, and will continue throughout the seven weeks of Easter.  We pause today from our Map, to remember that the decisions we make on how to follow Jesus Christ should all be rooted in a desire to know him.  We have claimed Jesus as Lord and Savior:  we should want to know what this means every day of our lives.

Our invitation today to take part in this meal is guided by Scripture.  We are invited to love one another so that Jesus might be pleased.  We are invited to judge…Ourselves, so as to gain the maximum benefit from this meal.  We are invited to serve one another in love.

In his gospel, John looks at the events of the last Passover meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples from a different perspective:  the story is tied to the washing of the disciple’s feet, teaching Jesus’ followers to do to one another what Jesus has done for them. The meal is also defined by the new command; “Love one another”. 

Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another    13:34-35

 We are to love one another as Jesus loved us.  What does this mean?  How has Jesus loved us? 
Jesus love is full of care and compassion
Jesus loved others first, not himself
Jesus loved fully, forgiving sins and covering our sins.
Jesus laid down his life for one another.

Later in the evening, Jesus says:  My command is this:  love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  15:12-14

Paul describes love in his letter to the Corinthians.  The call is to difficult, challenging, and rewarding work.  Love isn’t easy.  Love isn’t always a good feeling.  Love demands all from us and all of us.  Paul writes:
Love is patient.  Love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.   13:4-8

The church, during pastoral transitions, needs to be reminded, that Jesus and the New Testament Scriptures don’t talk a lot about pastoral transitions.  They don’t talk a lot about church growth strategies.  Jesus says to his disciples that the world will know, when you, his disciples, love one another.  Health is found when disciples love one another.  The opposite statement also seems to be true:  people will not know if you are Christ’s disciples if you do not love one another.

You are invited to love.  You are invited to judge yourself.

Paul tells the church in Corinth that he has no praise for them when it comes to their celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  Their meetings were harmful, full of divisions and people looking to win, people rushing to indulge themselves rather than help their neighbor.

Earlier in his letter, Paul wrote:  Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?  And is not the bread that we break a participation in this body of Christ?  Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.  10:16-17

Early New Testament celebrations of the meal were literally that.  It wasn’t a small piece of bread and a tiny cup. It was a full meal in someone's home.  The divisions in Paul’s time seem to be social and economic.  The hosts of the meal would invite the entire congregation, but have a private meal for their close friends into an inner room.  The other people of the congregation were allowed to be out in the atrium.  Some had a full meal, eating in front of others who were hungry.  The celebration had long forgotten Jesus.

These actions did not bring praise to God, but rather disdain to God for his gift of community.  Eating and drinking while having other people watch and wait for you brought humiliation to the community.  Paul teaches that these people had better look at themselves.  It would be better if they looked at themselves and changed their ways rather than face the judgment of God.  This meal was about more than any individual, it was a celebration of the Lord. 

We are invited to love one another.  We are invited to judge ourselves.  We are invited to serve one another in love.

In Luke’s gospel, we read of that first Lord’s Supper.  We are familiar with the announcement by Jesus that one will betray him and a discussion arose as to who that would be.  But we are less familiar that a second discussion arose within the group.  It wasn’t ‘who would betray’, but ‘who will be the greatest among them’.  

The greatest isn’t the kings of the earth, or the lords over the gentiles.  The greatest isn’t the people who proclaim themselves as the benefactors while in positions of authority.  The greatest isn’t even the one who sits at the table during the feast.  The greatest is the one who serves.  Let us serve one another in love.

At this table, we meet the one who served the fullest extent possible.  He laid down his life for us, so that we might become children of God.

John writes in his first letter about love and judgment and service:
God is love.  If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because God first loved us.  If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother or sister, they are a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God, who they have not seen.  And God has given us this command:  Whoever loves God must also love his brother or sister.  I John 4:16

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Glory to God! Easter Sunday Sermon

Glory to God!                                                                        4/5/15
Mark 16:1-8, Philippians 3:7-14

A decade ago, perhaps you watched the television show Alias.  It was a spy thriller series, in which a daughter/father team stood for justice and attempt to keep one step ahead of the antagonist Arvin Sloane.  Arvin was attempting to reconstruct a series of prophesies from a 12th century Italian philosopher, which, if done correctly, would lead to eternal life.  Jack and Sydney Bristow made it their mission to hinder Arvin Sloane, a murdering, conniving, ruthless man, from getting his hands on the formula for eternal life.

In the series finale, Arvin is able to create the elixir that will bring eternal life, and in the presence of Jack Bristow, drinks and receives his long desired wish.  He will live forever.  I remember the first time I saw this:  they are setting themselves up for a new series.  But alas, no, this was not the case. Arvin drinks the elixir while standing in a cave, in front of Jack, who then proceeds, in a truly masterful plot twist, to blow up the entrance to the cave:  the rocks enclose Arvin Sloane in his cave.  He will live forever, alone with no chance to live anywhere but the cave.

The godless, graceless, selfish attempt to live forever ultimately backfired on Arvin.  But it is a back drop for us today of how godly, grace-filled and selfless is God’s plan of redemption.  The picture of eternal life from the Lord’s eyes is one filled with wonder, majesty, life and beauty.  And it has come to us because of the story we celebrate today.

Easter is both a bookend and a springboard.  It is one of the two bookends in the Holy Week series. Easter’s mirror is Palm Sunday, with its praise and triumph of Jesus Christ.  But in between these two celebrations, is the mystery of God’s plan, with its betrayal and fear, and sadness and death on a cross.  The Easter Bookend brings together the great variety of emotions and experiences of that first holy week.

Easter is also a springboard.  It projects us into the future:  the story of the resurrection brings with it the answer to the great enemy of death, God’s promise to us in his prototype of Jesus, and the glory of new life in Christ.  As a bookend and a springboard, Easter calls us to look back in review, and to look forward with a promise.

The worst Sabbath was complete, and now the women could return to anointing the body of Jesus.  Mary, Mary and Salome were followers of the Lord, financing and supporting the ministry of Jesus.  They were with him at the cross, and were there when Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus from the cross, and were going to the tomb on that third day to do their work.  Along the way, in what to me is a very humorous detail in Mark’s gospel, they ask one another as they are walking to the tomb, “who will roll away the stone from the tomb’s entrance?”  The short answer is that God will provide.  God’s provision is evident in several details of the story.
·       God provides by rolling the stone away.
·       God provides a white robed messenger, to speak to the women, whose first words to the alarmed women are, “don’t be”.
·       God provides the truth:  You are looking for Jesus who was crucified, he isn’t here.  Look for yourselves.
·       God provides a mission:  Go and tell the disciples, and Peter.
·       God provides a promise:  He is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see him, just as he told you.

St. Augustine taught “no doctrine of the Christian faith is so vehemently opposed” as the resurrection.  The idea of resurrection is deeply embedded in human history, though in Augustine’s time there was great debate about whether or not the body accompanies the soul into heaven.  Things have changed since Augustine’s time, and in the modern world, the resurrection isn’t so much opposed as it is ignored, or packaged as a cute sermon for Easter, or scoffed at as mythology.  But if we were to look at Scripture, the theme of resurrection is found consistently throughout its pages, and is the core of the Christian faith:  Jesus died for our sins.  God’s power raised him from death and made him alive again.

We read the gospels and it is easier to relate to some of Jesus’ other teachings and commands:  Love one another.  Ok.  It can be hard at times, but we get it.  Let your yes be yes and your no be no.  It is a challenge not to make an oath, but we can agree that it is beneficial to speak simply.  But resurrection?  What does that mean?  We can’t speak to it the way we can other teachings from our Lord.  Yet our faith is built upon resurrection.  Paul writes, “if we have faith only for this life, we are to be pitied more than all people” (I Co. 15:19) and, “if the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (15:32)

The Apostle’s Creed affirms the importance of resurrection by naming it twice, with 14 of the creed’s 110 words devoted to the subject.  “On the third day Christ rose again from the dead”, and in the final paragraph, I believe “in the resurrection of the body”.

Our modern fractured world ignores the healing that comes from Scripture and the gospel proclaimed by the church.  Jesus rose from the dead.  He was the first.  There will be a resurrection of our bodies.   We follow Jesus.

The resurrection that leads to eternal life, the good kind mind you, not the Arvin Sloane in a cave model, is found through Jesus Christ.  We place our faith in him.  Our righteousness, Paul writes, comes from faith in Christ.  It is not our own resume that gets us into heaven, but rather, the righteousness that comes from God, and faith in God’s son.

Paul made it his spiritual mission to know the Lord, to know Christ’s resurrection power, to know the fellowship of sharing in the Lord’s sufferings, becoming like Christ in death and resurrection.  Hymn writer James Montgomery captures this idea in his hymn Go to Dark Gethsemane:  The last words of each stanza read like this:

Turn not from his griefs away, learn from Jesus Christ to pray.
Shun not suffering, shame or loss, learn from Christ to bear the
“It is finished!” hear him cry; learn from Jesus Christ to die.
Christ is risen!  He meets our eyes.  Savior, teach us so to rise.

Jesus worked out salvation for us.  But in our discipleship, we experience life through the lens of Christ:  life, death, and the future make sense through him.

Paul writes:  My goal is to win the prize for which we are called heavenward.  For this goal, Paul says that “Jesus took hold of him”.   We are claimed through Jesus Christ for a great purpose, and at a great cost.  This is ultimately why Resurrection is important!  Resurrection explains the cross, explains why our bodies matter, and affirms the family of faith.

Scripture says that “For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).  If Jesus had simply died, and that was the end of the story, there would be no story.  It would have been meaningless.  But Jesus, through his resurrection, opens the door to heaven, enters himself, and then invites you and I.

Because Jesus invites us, we should take life very seriously.  It is a gift.  And we will give account of the gift given us.  The Scripture says that “our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Co. 6:19).  That the Holy Spirit would make home within us is not a meaningless gesture.  It speaks that God feels the body is important, not just a place to hold the spirit, but, along with the spirit and soul, raised on that last day by the resurrection power of God.

It is not just our bodies that we are concerned with, but the people we have come to know and love and live alongside.  Resurrection affirms a good future for you, but also for those around you.  For those you love, and for those whose earthly life has ended.

Today we celebrate the bookend of Holy Week:  Triumph, cross and resurrection are intricately connected in Scripture.  The theme of today also springs us into new life in Christ.  The choice before you is to believe that the message should be kept to one Sunday a year, as a cute story that we can let out on Easter (but no other time), or if it really is part of the gospel, and therefore, true:  God’s good news, for you, your household, your neighbor, and all of creation.  If this is the case, then stand with me to proclaim:  Christ is risen:  He has risen indeed.