01/19/2020 = Titus 2:1-5 = “What Are These ‘Sounds’?!”

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Mark Wheeler

Titus 2:1-5

“What Are These ‘Sounds’?!”

01/19/2020

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

During this season between Christmas and Lent, January and February, we are looking at Paul’s letter to Titus, the Church Pastor on the Island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea.

Titus is Paul’s spiritual son whom Paul assigned there to encourage these church members who were better at professing the Christian faith than they were at practicing it. They said they believed it, but they did not live like they believed it!

 

Last week we finished chapter 1 which teaches what every Christian leader must follow, and every Christian should follow. And, as we learned in our survey – every Christian is a leader, whether it is an ordained ecclesiastical position or simply the life calling God as put us in. Blamelessness and living in congruity with our words and with God’s Word.

Today’s passage deals with some explicit instructions with specific necessities. Listen for three things: 1) What verb is in the instruction? 2) To whom is this directed? And, 3) What is the purpose of this instruction?

 

Hear the Word of God, Titus 2:1-5 …. —-

1 You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine2 Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

 

In chapter 1 we read two main activities for the soon-to-be ordained elders and ministers in the churches on Crete: 1) encourage others by sound doctrine and 2) refute those who oppose it. The 1980s Thru the Bible radio guy, J. Vernon McGee, says, “The church must teach sound doctrine or it is not the church…. It really doesn’t matter how high the steeple may be or how beautifully the chimes may play, it is the message that is going out from the pulpit which will tell you whether the church is really a church….

In the book of Acts, after the day of Pentecost we’re told that the newly forming churchdevoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (2:42)” That is “sound doctrine”, fellowship, worship and prayer. Sound doctrine is the apostles’ teaching – it is God’s Word, the most important thing the church must do is teach God’s Wordsound doctrine!

 

In today’s reading:

1) What verb is in the instruction? Teach. You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrineBishop Titusjob number one is to teach! The “key word” is obviously, “sound doctrine”, biblical theology. What makes it “sound” is that it comes from God’s Word and transforms how we live – our behavior demonstrates our faith. Remember that these Cretans claim they believe in God, but their actions deny Him. So, the instruction is to teach people what is right and how to live rightly because of it – “sound doctrine”. But what may be surprising is whom Titus is instructed to teach, and then what those who are taught are to do with their teaching.

 

2) To whom is this directed?  Teach the older men  … Likewise, teach the older women … Then they can urge the younger women. Whom is Titus told to teach? The word is not the “elders, not the church leaders, but the family leaders: The older men, the older women, the patriarchs and matriarchs of the main social structures of every society – the family. Teach men how to be husbands and fathers; teach women how to be wives and mothers. And teach them these things by way of God’s Word, the Way of Jesus who was sent to us to present God’s righteousness and love; and who sends us to present the same to the world!

In the New Testament Greek world of patriarchal society, there are specific duties to be performed by the different ranks of society – and we see them in this letter. Some would argue that this is the “apostles’ teaching” that Acts 2 talks about as vital, and that, therefore, these same role distinctions are for all people at all times in all places. That is not how I understand it – the “apostles’ teaching”, I believe, is the principle that while family structures might change, family members still have the primary responsibility of teaching the Gospel truths, biblical theology. In other words, I do not think God really cares whether the wife or the husband cooks the meals, does the dishes, brings home the more bacon, etc – but that God does care that our children are raised, to the best of our abilities, in homes where the parents teach the children how to grow into productive, contributing members of society in ways that bring honor and glory to the God who makes us and loves us and who sent His own Son for us!

 

God creates us in families not only for the convenience or for the emotional support they offer their members, but for the absolutely critical role families play in civilizing the world! The family is the primary place for socialization and moral education. (Can I get an Amen from the families that are actively raising children right now in 2020?!)

I read this week: “The culture of perpetual youth does not suggest that we like children; rather, it implies they are our rivals. We close our condominiums to them and our hearts to them. They are too weak, dependent, arbitrary and unpredictable, demanding…. So we rationalize turning their care over to others….

 

Last Sunday we heard Paul say that church leaders need to be blameless”, and of course, we recognize that since only Jesus is truly blameless, this is really a call to our doing our best to reflect God’s prefect glory and when we fail, to confess, repent, ask forgiveness, and try again….

Teaching sound doctrine falls into that same camp. And raising our families is an act of accountability that when Mom and Dad blow it, Mom and Dad come back to God again, confess both to God, to each other, and to Junior, repent, ask forgiveness and keep trying!

 

I know – I’m a Dad who has blown it in more ways and more frequently than I understand – none of this happens easily or perfectly. We are broken people living in a broken world. Our parents were not perfect, and our children will not parent perfectly. There are so many ways we all experience this aspect of our fallen world. But that is still the purpose: Did you catch that in Titus 2:5?

3) What is the purpose of this instruction? So that no one will malign the word of God.

 

As Pastor Kathy makes her way forward for our prayer-time, like we did last week, I invite you to turn to #564 in the hymnbooks – and let’s pray together:

Lord Jesus,

by the indwelling of Your Holy Spirit,

purge our eyes to discern and contemplate You until we attain to see as You see, judge as You judge, choose as You choose;

and having sought and found You

to behold You forever and ever.

We ask this for Your name’s sake. Amen.*

 

Resources:

Johnson, Luke Timothy; 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus; John Knox Press; Atlanta, GA; 1987; Pp. 122-132.

 

McGee, J. Vernon; I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon; Thru the Bible Books; Pasadena, CA; 1983; Pp. 171-173.

 

*Rosetti, Christina (19th Century); The Worshiping Church: A Hymnal; Hope Pub.; Carol Stream, IL; 1990; #564 (To Be Like Jesus)

 

 

 

 

 

NIV Study Bible; www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-titus/.

 

01/12/2020 = Titus 1:5-16 = “Leadership Qualifications?!”

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Mark Wheeler

Titus 1:5-16

“Leadership Qualifications?!”

01/12/2020

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

We’re going to start this morning with a little show-of-hands survey. Are you ready?

  • Raise your hand if you are currently serving this church as a Deacon or an Elder:
  • Raise your hand if you have ever served this church as a Deacon or an Elder:
  • Raise your hand if you have ever served any church as a Deacon or an Elder:
  • Raise your hand if there is someone in your life whom you teach – teach anything, sewing, mechanical engineering, arithmetic, social media etiquette, how to bag your own groceries, how to apply Scriptural principles to everyday situations – who here teaches anyone anything, anything at all?
    • That’s just a sampling of some of the circles of influence we each have in this world. We each have them, women and men, older and youthful, from every culture and background, everyone.
  • Lastly, raise your hand if you are a Christian, if your life is given to Jesus Christ:

 

During this season between Christmas and Lent we are looking at Paul’s letter to the Church Pastor on the Island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea.

Paul sends this letter to his spiritual son Titus to encourage Titus’ leadership with these church members who were better at professing the Christian faith than they were at practicing it. They said they believed it, but they did not live like they believed it!

 

Last week we read the letter’s greeting; today we finish chapter 1, Paul’s instructions which, as my friend and colleague Pastor Chris Merkling teaches, every Christian leader must follow, and every Christian should follow. But, as our opening survey suggests – every Christian is a leader, whether it is an ordained ecclesiastical position or simply the life calling God as put us in. These are some leadership qualifications.

 

The Word of God, from Titus 1:5-9, and then 10-16 …. —-

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished [“put in order” is a medical term, it means to “set a broken bone” – apparently the Church communities on Crete were broken; we’re not told a lot of details, but Paul’s instructions for what needed to be “put in order” hint at what was wrong – and, frankly, it sounds a lot like the Church, in every denomination, in America (including our denomination and our own congregation)] and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. [“appoint elders” is a phrase we’ll circle back to in a minute, but before we do, notice that Paul wants Titus to do this “in every town: that means that Titus was more than just the pastor of one church in one town on the island of Crete, but that he was the Bishop, the overseer, the Greek word is “episkopas” (sounds like our word “episcopal”) of the whole island – and that every church needs its own set of “leaders”; which is what “elders” means – not necessarily elderly, but people of maturity – listen to this list of the requirements of a mature leader:] An elder must be blamelessfaithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.    ->

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlledupright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.    ////  [The next several verses describe why these character  traits are required – remember, requirements are a must for leaders, and a “should” for everyone, since, as we saw earlier, everybody leads somebody.]

10 For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. 12 One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” 13 This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14 and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

 

These Cretans are sinners – who isn’t, though, right? – gossiping and bullying from the safety of Twitter or Facebook, teaching bad beliefs, false teaching, wrong theology, heretical ideology. It all sounds pretty 21st Century American to me. Verse 16 says, “They claim to know God” (they say what they believe), “but their actions deny God” (they do not live like they believe what they say they believe).

 

Because of that, what leadership qualifications are required?

  • Be blameless
  • Be faithful to his wife – the more literal reading would be “husband of one wife
  • Have children who believe

Shall we take a minute to understand what these say?

  • Be blameless” is pretty extreme. I mean, who is “blameless? Right? Remember the story in John’s Gospel where the prostitute s caught in the act? And Jesus bends down and writes something in the dirt, and then says, “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.” Who throws that first stone? [No, not Mary …. They all drop their stones and walk away] Who is actually without sin? [Right – Jesus, and only Jesus! And we, while we’re supposed to be like Jesus, we are not actually Jesus!
    • So, what does “blameless” mean? It does not mean “sinless”, but it does mean “not OK with sin”! And it means not living lifestyles of blatant sin: lying, stealing, cheating, purposely hurting or offending. People who live like that cannot be “elders”, they should simply disqualify themselves! And, honestly, anyone who claims faith in Christ has a responsibility to live that kind of “blameless” life as well.
    • So, what happens when we fail? What if I fall into gossip, or take more than my fair share of cherry cheesecake at the potluck? I just lost my “blamelessness”, right? Confess, repent, ask forgiveness, and receive God’s grace and mercy.
    • Charles Swindoll says something about how this is not about being perfect, but it is about not being OK with our sins.
  • Be faithful to his wife” or “husband of one wife”; does this disqualify women, because they, generally speaking, are not married to a wife? Does it disqualify single men, men without a wife? Does it disqualify widows and widowers, for the same reason as single people? Does it disqualify widowhood who has remarried (a second wife)? How about divorced people? Or, especially divorced people who have remarried? There are denominations and traditions which only call pastors who are married, once; there are others who only call pastors who are not married at all – or, more accurately, their theology says the pastors are the vicars of Christ, and are therefore married to the Church!
    • Like the “blamelessqualification, our church thinks this really means people who are not serial marriers – married, divorced, married, divorced, married, divorced; also not bigamists (or multigamists). Yes, it appears from Scripture that God’s ideal is that marriage is between one man and one woman; but, like the “blameless” rule, confession, repentance, and asking forgiveness brings God’s favor of grace and mercy.
  • Have children who believe” also does not mean that these leaders must have children, but that if they do, the children should not be cantankerous, rebellious, non-believers! When those children grow and are “out of the house”, of course, they are their own people; but until then, the family of the “elderreflects that “elder’s” faith.

 

The higher the position of ordination, the higher the qualifications: the “bishops”, and I still think all of us are in leadership, show the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), summarized here as:

  • Blameless
    • Not self-centered
    • Not with uncontrolled anger issues
    • Not addicted to alcohol, or probably any other drugs
    • Not self-willed, covetous
  • Hospitable
  • Hangs with people who also demonstrate God’s ideals
    • I do not think this means we should avoid being with sinners – after all, that’s who Jesus spent most of His time with; but that we need the council and friendship of Spirit-led followers of Jesus
  • Sober
  • Just, fair, righteous
  • Holy
  • Temperate

 

This is serious business! We are all called to be ambassadors of Christ to the world (II Corinthians 5:20), these are the qualifications for ambassadorship!

 

At the end of this month, we elect our new Deacons and Elders, and next month they will be installed into their ordinations. And we, the whole church, are asked to live into these qualifications with them.

 

We are a part of that experience every time we truly live like we believe what we say we believe!

 

I want to allow a little discussion time this morning – what thoughts, comments, questions, do you want to add to this message?

 

And for our prayer – let’s turn to #564 in the hymnbooks (we will be singing #563 in a few minutes anyway) – and let’s pray together:

Lord Jesus,

by the indwelling of Your Holy Spirit,

purge our eyes to discern and contemplate You until we attain to see as You see, judge as You judge, choose as You choose;

and having sought and found You

to behold You forever and ever.

We ask this for Your name’s sake. Amen.*

 

Resources:

McGee, J. Vernon; I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon; Thru the Bible Books; Pasadena, CA; 1983; Pp. 163-170.

 

Merkling, Chris; Orchard Christian Fellowship; Spokane, WA.

 

*Rosetti, Christina (19th Century); The Worshiping Church: A Hymnal; Hope Pub.; Carol Stream, IL; 1990; #564 (To Be Like Jesus)

 

Wiersbe, Warren; With the Word; Nelson Pub.; Nashville, TN; 1991; Pp. 806-807.

 

01/05/2020 = Titus 1:1-4 = “A Very Broken Condition with a Totally Unbreakable Hope”

(Click right HERE for the audio of this message.)

Mark Wheeler

Titus 1:1-4

“A Very Broken Condition with a Totally Unbreakable Hope!”

01/05/2020

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,           

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

On this first Sunday of the New Year we begin a look at Paul’s letter to the Church Pastor on the Island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. Some of you may have read my article in the January Newsletter – it introduces why the Apostle wrote this epistle to his spiritual son Titus.

In short – Paul recognizes how these church members were better at professing the Christian faith than they were at practicing it. They said they believed it, but they did not live like they believed it!

 

A little background to get us started: Titus is never mentioned in the book of Acts which chronicles Paul’s conversion to Christianity and then documents his missionary journeys throughout Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, and eventually Rome. But while Titus’ name never appears in Acts, it does show up more than a dozen times in Paul’s letters. It looks like Titus became a Christian under Paul’s missionary work, and then worked with Paul in several ways, including delivering Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (a letter that stirred up strong emotions among the Corinthian Christians). Then, the book of Acts ends with Paul in prison in Rome, and tradition tells us he was released from prison, travelled to Crete with Titus, and then left Titus in Crete as the Bishop of the Cretan Church. There may have been more missionary journeys for Paul, and finally he went back to the Roman prisons, wrote several letters, including this one, and there, presumably, died as a martyr under Nero’s tyranny, somewhere around the year 64ad.

Do you see the realm of utter brokenness surrounding the Roman world? Listen for the unbreakable hope!

 

The Word of God, from Titus 1:1-4 …. —-

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life [do you remember where Paul was when he wrote this letter? Probably in prison in Rome, facing execution, probably decapitation, for his faith], which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time [I shared this with Thursday Bible study a few weeks back: I have a friend and colleague, a pastor, 55ish-years old, who posted on Facebook, that he was “this many years old when he learned that ‘God’s Word cannot be broken’ has more than one meaning”. 1) The Bible is trustworthy, and 2) God never breaks a promise!], and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior,

To Titus, my true son in our common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. [Whew! That was all one sentence!]

 

Throughout this letter we will discover that these Cretans (almost a dirty word, isn’t it?) believed some bad beliefs, false teaching, wrong theology, heretical ideology; we will hear repeated emphases on loving and doing and teachingwhat is good”; and a couple of very brief and classic summaries of proper Christian doctrine.

 

In the weeks to follow we, too, will discover some ways American Christianity, at least our tribe of American ChristianityEvangelical Presbyterian Christianity – has fallen into some bad beliefs, false teaching, wrong theology, and even heretical ideology. We will hear lessons on how to lovewhat is good”, how to dowhat is good”, and even how to teachwhat is good”. And we will learn some essential tenets of Christian faith.

All of this from a letter written 1950 years ago to a people on a tropical island figuring out their Christian faith in a very not-Christian world.

 

Whitworth University Professor Jerry Sittser recently wrote about life in America, Spokane, America, with similar life conditions:

I grew up in the 1950s and ’60s. I remember how visible and influential Christianity was, especially mainline Christianity. It was the peak period of church life in America: big numbers, big budgets, big buildings and big influence. [LPC grew to well over 600 members in the ’50s; we added the office and classroom wing in 1957; we added the parking lot in the ’60s; LPC lived this “peak period of Church life” right along with the rest of America.]

Since then the mainline church has declined precipitously, and so has the Catholic Church…. Though 26 percent of boomers identify as evangelical [“evangelical” defined as believing in the Good News of God’s love which saves us by grace through faithnot the newer political understanding of the term “evangelical”], only 8 percent of their children do [probably partly because of that political influence on the term]…. They are the ‘nones’ and ‘dones’ in American society. [“nones” refers to people who mark “none when asked about their religious preference; “dones” are those who are through with organized religion of any kind.]

… Christianity is fast losing its place of cultural privilege and power.

The worst pathway for Christians to follow – but also the easiest and widest, as Jesus put it – is to strive to gain or maintain cultural privilege and power at the expense of faithfulness to the gospel…. [Here he points out some of the bad beliefs, false teaching, wrong theology, and even heretical ideology that American Christianity has fallen into:] We already see ample evidence of this with the rise of white Christian nationalism, the popularity of the prosperity gospel, and the compelling power of social causes that, however just, can all to quickly replace Christianity, becoming their own secular religion.

 

For some people, this kind of description creates a world of panic and despairfear of what we lose and what we are required to take on. But Sittser writes with hope – because he sees God in the midst of every day struggles and troubles.

The “solution” he presents is simple – and is also what Paul presents in this letter to Pastor Titus of Crete:

It is just this time that the church needs to rediscover its original message and pattern of life. Jesus … modeled a new way of life …, which set in motion a movement that … changed the world.

The American church needs to return to its first principles and rebuild its foundation, making disciples.

 

Yes. Sure. Life is hard. We find our schools teaching Islam and Buddhism, but a mention of Christ gets you suspended (or worse). Another church shooting happened last week – and not just Christian, but Jewish synagogues and other religious gathering places. Our church gets lumped in with churches that shout hate-speech at minority racial settings or life-styles we might disagree with – and while we might believe differently, hatespeech or otherwise – is not our intention at all!

I have been in an on-going discussion with friends over abandoning the term “evangelical (which literally just means “Good News”) because it has become so associated withwhat we’re against” instead of “what we’re for” (we are for the Good News of God’s grace and forgiveness that is available to everyone through faith!)

 

In a few minutes we gather around the Lord’s Table and we receive the grace of God through the gift of His Son – that is Eu-Angelion, Ev-angelical, Good News!

And it comes with a true Hope that is absolutely un-breakable!

 

Jerry Sittser closes his article with that hope:

The early Christian movement [like what we see in Crete in the first Century] faced challenges far more difficult than ours. Yet it grew steadily for more than 260 years, until Constantine assumed the throne and set a trajectory for the gradual emergence of a cultural Christianity. If growth happened then, it can [certainly] happen again[!].

We are a part of that growth every time we truly live like we believe what we say we believe!

 

Resources:

NIV Study Bible; www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-titus/.

 

Sittser, Gerald L.; “A Faith Imperiled”; Whitworth Today; Fall 2019; Vol 89; No 2.

12/29/2019 = Isaiah 63:7-9 = “Joy Becomes Compassion!”

(Click HERE to find the audio version of this text.)

Mark Wheeler

Isaiah 63:7-9; Matthew 2:13-23

“Joy Becomes Compassion!”

12/29/2019, 5th(?) Sunday of Advent

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,           

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

I have loved this year’s Advent theme of “Joy to the World”! Together we experienced how Joy connects with Hope and Courage and Peace; we heard the joyous Good News through the choir’s spectacular Cantata; on Christmas Eve we experienced how Joy becomes Incarnatethrough the Son of God, and through His Church as we follow the lead of the Holy Spirit!

Today, on this First Sunday after Christmas, the Fourth Day of Christmas (y’all know that the 12 Days of Christmas are the 12 days following Christmas, right?!), we experience how Joy – our relationship with the God of heaven and earthbecomes Compassion!

We have read several Old Testament passages of prophecy from the Prophet Isaiah, many of which have sounded familiar – maybe from previous Advent seasons, or from Christmas cards, or maybe from Christmas carols; today we read one moreless Advent-ish and Christmassy, but equally as compelling and prophetic of the promised Messiah!

 

Listen for the word “compassion” in this Old Testament description of God, and hear it with an understanding of what that means; “passion”=“strong, barely controllable emotion”+ “com”=“with, alongside, together”. And remember what “Emmanuel” means? “God is with us!”

Hear the Word of God, today from Isaiah 63:7-9 …. —-

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,    the deeds for which he is to be praised,    according to all the Lord has done for us—yes, the many good things     he has done for Israel,    according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
He said, “Surely they are my people,    children who will be true to me”;
    and so he became their Savior
in their distress.   It was no envoy or angel             but his own presence that saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them    all the days of old.

 

And, then, in this New Testament post-Christmas story of hopeless, fearful, terror, we read of the Holy Family’s escape from horror into Egypt’s safety. Matthew 2:13-23…. —-

13 When [the Magi from the East]  had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet [Hosea 11:1]: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi [who were supposed to go tell Herod where the new-born King of the Jews was, but they were also warned by an angel in a dream], he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah [31:15] was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,    weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,    because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth.  So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

 

It isn’t often that an Old Testament text invites us to think about the kindness of God. I mean, it’s all over the Old Testament stories, it’s just not directly pointed out or stated as point-blankly as this morning’s reading from Isaiah does. It also invites us to consider the compassion and empathy of God.

Kindness, compassion, and empathy are words that often show up in the realm of psychology and/or self-help sections of the library. They seem like human words, human attributes. But today we are reminded that these ways of being are also of God. If/when we are able to display them we are merely reflecting the image of God in whose likeness we are made!

 

We can be thankful for this reminder as the text from Isaiah is set against the story of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus fleeing to Egypt as Herod orders the slaughter of innocent children. The world is full of people and systems, driven by fear and vengeance, who will do all they can to extinguish joy and peace and love. The world can be heartbreakingly cruel; the world desperately needs kindness, compassion, and empathy.

 

On this week after Christmas we focus on Compassionate Joy. It might be helpful to define what compassion is. In a book on self-compassion, professor and psychologist Kristin Neff writes, “Compassion, then, involves the recognition and clear seeing of suffering. It also involves feelings of kindness for people who are suffering, so that the desire to help—to ameliorate suffering—emerges. Finally, compassion involves recognizing our shared human condition, flawed and fragile as it is.

That’s the absolute wonder of “Emmanuel”! Almighty, all-powerful, omnipotent, omnipresent, all encompassing God – is with us! Compassion which creates Joy. Joy which becomes Compassion!

 

This understanding of compassion is so consistent with an understanding of who God is and what God calls us to be. God recognizes and sees our suffering. As Isaiah writes, “In all their distress God too was distressed.” And over and over again we see God’s desire to help us, to save us from our trials. In Jesus, God comes to us, enters into our shared human condition.

We are called to do the same for others. We respond to the cruelty in our world with kindness, compassion, and empathy. We respond to the cruelty of our world with joy. Against the evils of the world we shout, we cry out, we overcome. We join our voices with God, with God’s angels, and with the great cloud of witnesses, saints throughout history and across the globe, to usher in God’s  Kingdom of Compassionate Joy!

 

It could be easy this week to only focus on the cruelty in the world; or to simply ignore its reality. We may be weary from the Christmas busyness and see how easy it is to name all the “Herods” of our time and age. But, remember all that we have learned about joy: hopeful joy, unabashed joy, peaceful joy, loving joy, incarnate joy, compassionate joy.

Joy still abides; it runs deep and wide. Where do you see and feel joy: in your life, in your church, in your community, in the world?

 

We are just a few days from making New Year’s Resolutions – let’s make becoming a Living Well of Compassionate Joy in all our relationships be our collective 2020 Resolve!

 

Today, I close this message with two musical lessonsone is a poem, the second is a short video (assuming I can make it play), after-which we’ll move directly into prayer – which will include some testimonies of where you have seen or received acts of Compassionate Joy this month:

First, the poem:

Angels Still Appear” — a poem by Ann Weems

Angels still appear to those

ready to receive blessings

in spite of the barren impossibility of their lives.

 

Elizabeth still recognizes Jesus

and calls him Lord,

receiving him to her heart,

in spite of the distraction of her own blessing.

 

Blessings still come

To those who believe

That nothing is impossible

In the hand of God.

 

Mary still gives birth,

Not just every Advent,

Mary still gives birth to this Child

Who advents into hearts,

Unexpectedly and forever.

 

Herods still live who

would kill this Child,

but Mary and Joseph still flee into the desert,

and the night,

to protect the One

given into their keeping.

 

Doors still slam in the

Inns of this world,

Herods still plot to kill,

Deserts and darkness

Still threatens our safety,

But God still lives.

In spite of war and terror,

Mary gives birth

To the Prince of Peace.

In spite of hunger,

Mary gives birth

To the Bread of Life.

 

And, Second, the video, narrated by Morgan Freeman, called “The Christmas Scale”:

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNDtHdG5mVk)

 

Resources:

Barreto, Eric; Commentary on Matthew 2:13-23; TheWorkingPreacher.org.

 

Igniter Media; “The Christmas Scale”; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNDtHdG5mVk.

 

Neff, Kristin; Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself; HarperCollins; Kindle Edition; P. 10.

 

Weems, Ann; Advent’s Alleluia to Easter’s Morning Light: Poetry for Worship, Study, and Devotion; Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, KY; 2010; Pp. 29-30.

 

Yoder, Christine Roy; Commentary on Isaiah 63:7; TheWorkingPreacher.org.

January 2020 lead Newsletter Article

The Ledger    monthly newsletter of Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

January   2020

Turning Another Page

Show of hands of anyone hoping 2020 holds more promise than did 2019!

We all know that there’s nothing magical about January 1, but every year we get a fresh feel for a new opportunity to start over. There are even traditions all across the globe for making ourselves better in the new year. Of course, not every culture starts their year off on January 1, but increasingly we do – Anno Domini, 2020ad, the year of our Lord.

Last month I reflected on my 25-years of ministry with this congregation which has become a Well of Living Water for myself, our family, and our larger community. But going forward with nothing but a legacy seems like staying stuck in our past. Living Water flows forward.

And so we turn another page in our calendar of faith-living. For the next two months we will explore the New Testament Epistle from Paul to his spiritual son Titus who had been assigned to the roll of leading the Church on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean  Sea just where the Aegean Sea meets it.

It seems that the Cretan Christians were better at professing Christian faith than they were at actually practicing it. Therefore, Paul writes to their Pastor and counsels them with several New-Year-Resolution-like practices.

Paul does not suggest that doing any of these “good works” will earn them salvation, or make God love them more – but that “these good works” give evidence of their being children of the Living God, followers of Jesus, those who have received and believed the Good News of God’s Son.

At the end of this month we hold our Annual Congregational Meeting wherein we recall the ministries of the previous year – the victories as well as the hardships; we hold a moment of silence in honor of our loved ones, family members and fellow LPC saints, who have gone on to glory; the ways we have witnessed God’s power and presence in our midst; and the wonders of mystery that may have enveloped our faith. That’s all legacy. But we will also look forward: elect new Deacons and Elders to their offices; elect another Nominating Team to seek God’s leading in finding the next class of new leaders; and dream and envision what God has in store for 2020 and beyond.

Before this page gets finally turned, I want to take a few moments to thank Lidgerwood for the ways you have been a community of grace to the Wheelers. As you can guess (or, you probably know from personal experience), pastoral ministry is not always fun and games. I admit to having the awesome privilege of being with families in their happiest moments, but I also have the honor of sitting with them in their worst scenarios. Those are privileges I never take for granted. But, 2016-2019 has also given me the benefit of being prayed for and cared for when we needed it. You are a blessing.

I find myself Living Well at Lidgerwood, and drinking from Lidgerwood’s Living Well of Life-giving nourishment!

Thank you – all of you – for allowing me to serve with you, and to grow with you.

Mark

 

 2020 Annual Congregational Meeting

Sunday, January 26, immediately following worship, join us for a Potluck Lunch and our Annual Meeting wherein we will review our past year, elect new officers, and listen for God’s call to us for the next years together! Everyone, LPC members and friends alike, are encouraged to stay for this meeting.

12/24/2019 = Isaiah 52:7-10 = “What does ‘IS’ Mean?”

Mark Wheeler

Isaiah 52:7-10; Luke 2:1-20

“What Does ‘Is’ Mean?”

12/24/2019, Christmas Eve

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,           

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

We have “journeyed with joy” for a month now and here we are, ready to meet joy in the flesh and needing to be reminded that joy has been with us all along; joy is born into the world and into us again and again.

Tonight’s Sermon Title might bring to mind the question asked at the last presidential impeachment trials some 20 years ago; but tonight we ask it in terms of our theme’s Christmas carol. “Joy to the world! The Lord IS come!

I have heard the song sung with the wrong verb: the Lord HAS come! And while that is still true, what Isaac Watts wrote, and what we sing is: the Lord IS come!

What’s the difference? It is a simple and vital difference!

 

We come to worship this night to celebrate joy made flesh. The  Isaiah passage, which Sandy read, notices many joyful noises: the voice of a messenger, the cry of the sentinels, the song of a city. And the Luke readings read by Rita and Lilly point out the hushed quiet that falls on Christmas Eve. All the passages are full of movement: the feet upon the mountains, shepherds and angels coming and going, God breaking in. What better way to celebrate joy made-flesh than with movement and sound, with our whole bodies, our whole selves?!

 

Meister Eckhart (a 13th century German mystic) once said: “We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time. When the Son of God is begotten in us.” (McNaughton-Lawrence, Shelly; Aldersgate UMC, Olathe, KS.)

 

You see, that is the meaning of “is”. Yes, He HAS come – once, in history, nearly 2,000 years ago, in a stable in Bethlehem – but He IS comepresent tense – in you, in your heart, soul, mind and body.

 

And thisis” is what creates Joy – it “isincarnate joythe Lord “is” come! – in the flesh – in you and me, in His Church.

 

Where do we see Christ breaking into our world today? Where do we feel joy seeping into our lives?

 

Friends, the Lord is Come! The whole of creation praises God: the heavens are glad, the earth rejoices, seas roar, fields exult, tresses in the forest sing for joy!

Let us join the kaliphony, with our whole selves and our whole communities.

 

Because it is Good News!

 

In a minute we will come for Communion, or to receive a blessing, but before we do (assuming I can make the technology work), listen to how simple this Good News really “is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNDtHdG5mVk.

 

Resources:

Lose, David; Commentary on Luke 2:1-14; TheWorkingPreacher.org.

 

Hannan, Shauna; Commentary on Psalm 96; TheWorkingPreacher.org.

 

Igniter Media; “The Christmas Scale”; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNDtHdG5mVk.

 

Wendland, Kristin J.; Commentary on Isaiah 52:7-10; TheWorkingPreacher.org.

12/15/2019 = Isaiah 7:13-15 = “True Joy Brings True Peace”

(Click HERE to find the staticky, low-quality, audio of this message – with our apologies.)

Mark Wheeler

Isaiah 7:13-15; Matthew 1:18-25

“True Joy Brings True Peace”

12/15/2019, 3rd Sunday of Advent

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,           

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

We are now 15 days into the Season of Advent – an adventure of preparation, an adventure of wonder, an adventure of God’s perfect peace (shalom).  As we said with the kids, we are preparing our hearts for the birth of our Lord, and we hope to find Peaceful Joy in our busy schedules and our hurting hearts! We are reading several Old Testament passages of prophecy from the Prophet Isaiah. Many of these will sound familiar – maybe from previous Advent seasons, or from Christmas cards, or maybe from Christmas carols.

 

Listen for the name Immanuel which means “God with us.” From both the Old and New Testament narratives, we hear the yearning for this “Immanuel”—for God to become so present that God’s peace, truth, love, and justice reign among all the world and bring balance to what feels out-of-sorts.

Hear the Word of God, today from Isaiah 7:13-15 …. —-

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right….

 

And, 600ish years later, the Isaiah scripture is referenced in Matthew’s telling of the Christ-birth narrative,

from the New Testament Gospel according to Matthew 1:18-25…. —-

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. [“Divorce” is a stronger word than necessary, right? Part of the dilemma is that they weren’t yet married – and she was pregnant. But in their culture, betrothal was considered as permanent as marriage. Therefore, “divorce” is an appropriate translation.]

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” [“Jesus” is the Anglicized spelling of the Greek version of the Hebrew name Yeshua (“Yahweh, the Lord, saves”).]

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet [Isaiah]: 23 The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

 

Gayle Boss wrote a fantastic Advent devotional entitled, All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings. Each chapter describes the way another animal adapts to winter—with the loss of heat and light and food supplies. One chapter describes the life cycle of a firefly.

Did you know that the common Eastern Firefly dies off every year? But, in a sense, their little lights never cease. Because a firefly egg, buried deep in the ground, gives off a faint glow. And after only two weeks it will hatch and the little 24 red larvae will radiate a soft constant glow. Far beneath our feet, they have spent the winter months crawling through the soil, eating and growing. “When it senses it has grown fully, a larva will construct a sort of mud cave for itself in the soil. It will lie in the cave, glowing and still, while every part of its body melts and is remade. It will have crawled through the dark earth for more than three hundred days to be made ready for a transformation that happens in ten or twelve. A new creature, nothing like a worm, will push out of its cave, dig, and break above ground. It will rest a moment and breathe, then rise on fresh wings, its light, long hidden, released to dance through the wide nights of summertime.

This quiet and persistent light of the firefly is something like the peaceful joy we celebrate today. We celebrate God’s light and love, soft and persistent, “radiating love to all the earth.” We celebrate God’s peace and we anticipate how it might be manifest in the world.

Show of hands if you’ve been watching the political proceedings in WA DC for the last few weeks? It feels like people on every side of those hearings loves, thrives on, the conflict and contempt that’s been created.

As we approach a new calendar year, I am praying for God’s shalom, the Peace of God, to be manifest. I have no control over what happens in Washington, but I do have control over what happens right here in my own heart and soul and mind! May true joy in the Lord turn into true peace of heart and mind in my personal and professional relationships!

 

It might be hard to believe that God would come to this world, to be with us. Harder still to believe that God would come to us as a baby. It’s no wonder then, that an angel visits Joseph in his dream to show Joseph how the Messiah would be born into the world. “Do not be afraid,” says the angel. There is so much to be afraid of! The 9 months of pregnancy allows plenty of opportunity for feelings of fear and anxiety to move in and take residence in hopeful parents. In this time of transition, this time of gestation, God sends a messenger of peace. The peace God offers, peaceful joy, is deep and wide, nudging its way through our lives and occasionally bursting forth in radiant light.

God’s Peaceful joy brings balance to what feels out-of-sorts in the world. In a world that so often feels scary, peaceful joy speaks words of comfort. In a world that values strength and fortitude, peaceful joy portrays vulnerability. In a world full of kings and rulers fighting for power, peaceful joy is born in the form of a warm, floppy baby.

 

If we, when we, are able to experience God’s gift of joy – in the midst of our lives’ hardships and difficulties – even while our knees still hurt, our backs still spasm, our bodies still require medical attention and supplements – even when our families still ache, our children still wander, our loved ones are still gone – even when the diagnosis comes back as cancer, when the kidneys fail, when our joints stiffen and hurt with arthritis, our lungs fill with fluid, our finances empty out faster than the bills come in – even when we struggle with loneliness and fear and depression – if we, when we, are able to see the glimmer of light shining forth through God’s faithful Word and experience God’s gift of joypeace will prevail.

Peace of mind; peace of heart; peace in our loved ones; peace will envelope our worries and fears.

 

Advent is a time of anticipation; a time where true joy brings true peace, real peace. But it isn’t a time of passive waiting. In this time between the darkness of night and the light of day each of us is called to, like those Eastern Fireflies, glimmer with God’s peace even when no one can see it. In our baptism we are ordained into the relationship of peaceful joy in this world of conflict and our heavenly Father offers His peace by being God with us – at Christmas and every day.

 

How do we best rejoice in making room for the Christ child?

With whom will we share our peaceful joy today?

May Lidgerwood be that Living Well of peaceful joy!

 

Resources:

Allen, Ronald J.; Commentary on Matthew 1:18-25; TheWorkingPreacher.org.

 

Bass, Gayle; All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings; Paraclete Press; Brewster, MA; 2016; Kindle location: 570 of 779.

 

Lundblad, Barbara; Commentary on Isaiah 7:10-16; TheWorkingPreacher.org.