12/16/2018 = John 1:1-5, 14-18 = “The Truth about Grace and the Grace about Truth”

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Mark Wheeler

John 1:1-5, 14-18

“The Truth about Grace, and the Grace about Truth”

12/16/2018, 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.                

 

On this Third Sunday of this four-Sunday season of Advent we focus our attention on the themes of Truth and Grace

. Our Advent Candle Lighters reminded us that:

The presence of God in human form is the “dawn of redeeming grace”, says the Silent Night’s third verse. God so desired to be “up close and personal” that God came to live, breathe, feel, teach, touch, and love. And that, made in the image of God, we are called to nurture relationships that birth, multiply and radiate grace in the world. What would the world be like if “love’s pure light” was at the center?

 

The radiant beams of light now come from the newborn infant in this third verse of “Silent Night.” And this verse contains one of my favorite phrases, “love’s pure light.” So, of course, Love is the word for the week. Love and grace go hand-in-hand, and the Gospel of John begins with four mentions of that word, grace, and then doesn’t mention it again the entire rest of the book. As one commentator put it, “the entirety of the Gospel will show what grace looks like, tastes like, smells like, sounds like, and feels like. This is Christmas-preaching.

For John, God becoming flesh in Jesus [shows us what God’s grace looks like, and] that God wants to know it and feel it as well.”

 

So, this Sunday is about love. It’s about the Truth about God’s Grace, and it’s about the Grace of real Truth!”

 

Listen to these words from God’s Word, from the New Testament Gospel According to John 1:1-5, 14-18 …. —-

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2 He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … 

…  14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John [the Baptist] testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”)  16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

 

God’s face in Jesus Christ has entered the world where it will be kissed by mother Mary, cradled in Joseph’s rough carpenter-hands, and washed after the feeding and burping. This is real human life, full humanity wrapped around love’s pure light that will shine in a way remembered ever since. It is a love that “redeems” us – makes good on God’s promise to be with us always; never leaving, never forsaking us. Like a coupon that we get to redeem… only this one is available to every-one!

The beauty of the hymn’s poetry in this verse speaks of light as “dawning”. Dawn rises up, dawn pierces the dark night, transforming it. From the earliest human ancestors, dawn has been a source of reassurance that once again life continues. That the forces of life have gifted us and we have arisen to see another day.

In John’s opening lines, we hear of the presence of Christ from the beginning of time when “let there be lightconstituted the first dawn in our faith story. Coupled with the idea of Jesus as a human baby, this is the most poignant melding of birth of the cosmos and birth from a womb. Divinity and humanity as one.

 

We witness this light and “we have seen His glory.” There it is again… “glory” and the outpouring of light. This is “true light” that en-lightens us. Through the in-breaking of this light, we receive light and are “lit up.” Hence the question we asked in the Advent Candle lighting: “What would the world be like if ‘love’s pure light’ was at the center” of all we do, of all we create?

Made in the image of this One who is grace upon grace, how are we to nurture relationships that birth, multiply and radiate grace in the world? A grace-full existence. What would that look like?

Well, it would be wonderful and lest we get too “Hallmark cardsy” about it, we also know that it is not devoid of pain. It was the love of Christ for the oppressed that got Him in trouble and then crucified. It is this “sacrifice of love” that compels us to do what is sometimes difficult… get out of our comfort zones and risk extending the fullness of grace and love to all we encounter. “Fullness” means “complete” or “superabundant.” The incarnation of God, en-fleshed love, means taking on all aspects of our humanity, including rejection. This is life. This is love. The Truth about Grace is that we are expected to live it out in ways that demonstrate how wonderful God is! How do we demonstrate God’s grace?

 

Seeing the face of God in the people of our neighborhoods and recognizing the light radiating from the people around us can shift our entire ministry and the way we see relationships. The “silence” that is needed is to be quiet long enough to listen to the stories of amazing abundance where we might assume poverty.

Consider the light of an “at-risk teen” adventure from the edge of a cliff to a productive life-style that If You Could Save Just One is developing right here across the street on our church garage-lot! We had very little to do with that getting started, other than having loved a neighbor who 10-years later remembered that love and came back inviting us to join her in this life-saving project! That is the Truth about Grace!

 

The Truth about God’s perfect Grace is that it is completely un-earned, un-deserved; Grace is God’s offer of forgiveness and of His presence and power, to you, to every-one; the Truth about Grace is that we can do nothing to deserve it more than we deserve it today – and we can do nothing to lose it!

 

But this passage in John also tells us that there is a Grace about Truth we should know! The Truth is that we do not deserve God’s love or forgiveness! If we deserved it, it would not be grace! What we deserve is God’s justice – that would mean that since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and that the wages of that kind of sin is death (Romans 6:23) – God’s justice means eternity without God’s presence and power. But, John 3:16-18 tells us, “God so loves the world (grace after grace) that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting Life(!). For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned (grace after grace), but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s One and Only Son (that’s the Truth!)!”

 

Silent night, holy night!

Son of God, love’s pure light,

Radiant beams from Thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,

Jesus, Lord at Thy birth

 

Invite people to share some stories during Fellowship time or over lunch of ways you have experienced God’s love and encourage them to share this “good news” all around this week. – talk about the back banner – use it to pray!

 

God of Redeeming Glory, in our darkest, loneliest, most depressed moments, we discover the Truth of Your Grace and we just long o rest there, for an eternity. Thankfully, that’s exactly what You offer. Fill us again, right now, with Your redeeming grace, through Jesus, our Lord at His birth. Amen.

 

Resources:

McFee, Marcia; www.worshipdesignstudio.com

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12/09/2018 = 2nd Sunday of Advent = Psalm 86:9-11, Luke 2:-20 = “Light Shines into Darkness”

(Click HERE for an AUDIO link to this message)

Mark Wheeler

Psalm 86:9-11; Luke 2:8-20

“Light Shines into Darkness”

12/09/2018, 2nd 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.                

 

On this Second Sunday of this four-Sunday season of Advent we focus our attention on the themes of Joy and Glory. Our Advent Candle Lighters reminded us that:

The shepherds got quite a wake-up call that night when the sky lit up “like a Christmas tree” (so to speak). Awe at the transformative glory of what God can do in our lives is the focus this week. Glories are streaming every day if we only have eyes to see. How would our lives be renewed if we saw the world and our lives through the lens of wonder?

In today’s Bible story we read, “The glory of the Lord shone around them…” If you do a search for “glory” on the Biblegateway.com website you get pages and pages of hits. The Hebrew texts of the Old Testament are full of the word when it comes to God and it continues into the New Testament Gospel depictions of the presence of God. Throughout the scriptures, “glory” often has to do with “shining,” with light. God is light and, in Jesus, the light surrounds us. God’s presence, God’s deliverance, God’s strength is with us like that pillar of fire, the burning bush, and now the star and accompanying theatrics of angels singing God’s glory into the shining-light. They show us the appropriate response to this shining light… “Glory to God!

Praise is the only thing we can do in the face of such power and promise that we are not, ever, alone.

 

So, this Sunday is about joy. We can easily connect joy with “Glories” and “Alleluias”! And of course, today’s Luke reading is already way into the Christmas story rather than the typical Advent scriptures that save the manger scene for Christmas Eve. But I think it isn’t a bad thing to spend a little more time with the birth account this year since most years we don’t linger there. The twelve days of Christmas (which describe the time after Christmas until Epiphany) are mostly lost on us these days and so lingering at the manger and taking in the parts of the story of that night with slow intention is like rolling a Ferrero Rocher chocolate over our tongue for a while (speaking of joy!). Savor this moment of the Savior.

So let’s join these shepherds as they savor the Savior’s birth for just a bit.

 

Listen to these words from God’s Word, first, from the great Old Testament shepherd, David, as he prays in Psalm 86:9-11 …. —-

All the nations you have made   will come and worship before you, Lord;              they will bring glory to your name.
10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;          you alone are God.

11 Teach me your way, Lord,             that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart,    that I may fear your name.

 

And listen to these words from God’s Word, now, from the New Testament Gospel According to Luke 2:8-20 …. —-

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior  has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest heaven,    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” …

20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

 

It would appear that these shepherds didn’t immediately take to the drama of this moment. Right?

They were scared. Afraid. Terrified, even. The King James Version, as quoted by Linus Van Pelt says, “They were sore afraid!

There it is again. It is going to crop up every week, so get used to it. There may have been plenty of reasons for these folks to be afraid. One commentator describes the likelihood that these shepherds were possibly not only the “lowly” in terms of job importance, but these may have been the lowliest of shepherds… the hired hands, not the owners of the land or the sheep… but the indentured slaves, lowest-wage earners, working the graveyard shift and literallyliving in the fields.”

 

Already it is dark, when the critters prowl, but then something that felt absolutely apocalyptic was shaking the earth where they stood.

 

Silent night, holy night!

Shepherds quake at the sight,

Glories stream from heaven afar,

Heavenly hosts sing “Alleluia“!

Christ, the Savior is born,

Christ, the Savior is born

 

Fear can make us feel like we are on the edge. If we are jumpy already, anything that reeks at all of difference or change can feel like a threat. We get hyper-aware and on the look-out for the bad stuff we hear about every day, on the news, on our phones, seemingly everywhere.

When people are frightened, intelligent parts of the brain cease to dominate”, Dr. Bruce Perry explains, quoted in an article published on the Time magazine website.

Here’s what happens: “When faced with a threat, the cortex responsible for risk assessment and actions cease to function. In other words, logical thinking is replaced by overwhelming emotions, thus favoring short-term solutions and sudden reactions.” This is where the “fight or flight” instinct takes action. We react without thinking rather than respond thoughtfully.

I know when I get overwhelmed (and who doesn’t in this fast-paced, expectations-out-of-control world?), I start to enjoy (en-joy) life a lot less. I start constantly thinking about how to solve whatever problem seems to be front and center and I stop seeing the good all around me.

 

Enter the angel’s message: “We’ve got Good News of great joy for all the world!” This is another term often used in scripture for God’s presence and strength. “Hey, over here! Don’t forget you aren’t alone.” What the angels were about to tell the shepherds (really, these guys?) was that God’s presence had just made a “landing.” YourSavior (not just “a” savior), Your Savior is here, Emmanuel, God with us, God dwells with us!

Savior for all … this is Good News for ALL who will believe and receive this Good News!

Glory, glory, glory! Joy! Joy! Joy!

 

So… what’s joy got to do with it? What Good News am I missing? What don’t I see all around me that is worthy of joy, because I’m distracted, I’m jumpy, with fear?

This story is one of transformation from fear to joy, from panic to praise. The “glory (remember, glory is often code for “light”) streams” upon us. God’s goodness, presence and strength are all around us and IN us. To use a cultural reference that has made a reappearance in the movie theaters recently, “A Star is Bornevery time we let ourselves embrace joy (even and especially in the midst of everything not being perfect yet) and let that star shine its light from within us to the world.

Be a Star (why not “hashtag” this in social media to counteract the idea of what a “star” is in this culture of celebrity worship?) and let our joy spill out, streaming all over the place.

Sometimes we get embarrassed by joyful expression. Especially the “higher” we get on the totem pole or the more we get concerned about “appearances”. It is even possible that the sum of our church experience has been a bit less than “glorious” even as we proclaim the “Good News.” (Presbyterians in particular are almost ashamed of any display of emotion. [With arms folded and lips pursed, “praise the Lord”.])  We need people and a church that remember to belly-laugh, gasp in delight, seek out beauty and see the world through the lens of wonder.

For we believe in a God who is “an awesome  wonder-worker.” Perhaps the “silence” we speak of this week is the need to silence the onslaught of exposure to messages of fear and open ourselves to see and experience the beauty that sustains our joy of life.

 

Invite people to share some stories during Fellowship time or over lunch of what brings them joy and encourage them to notice the “good news” all around this week. – talk about the back banner – use it to pray!

 

Psalm 86:9-11 (NIV)

All the nations you have made
    will come and worship before you, Lord;
    they will bring glory to your name.
10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
    you alone are God.

11 Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.

 

God of Glorious Joy, You bring Light in our darkness, and for that we give You the greatest offering joy! Through Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Resources:

McFee, Marcia; www.worshipdesignstudio.com

12/02/2018 = 1st Sunday of Advent =Isaiah 2:1-4, Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 = “God’s Peace in Our Chaos”

(Click HERE to listen to this message.)

Mark Wheeler

Isaiah 2:1-4; 9:2-7

“God’s Peace in Our Chaos”

12/02/2018, 1st 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 begin the Season of Advent with some readings from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah in order to lay the prophetic vision of God’s peace that would have been on the lips of the Jewish people when Jesus entered the world.

Indeed, the ways Isaiah 9 describes the “king who would bring the people out of oppression” are repeated in Matthew and Luke. While it’s true that Isaiah would have had a King in Judah in his mind, when we look back at this prophecy-from-the past Christians have always seen its fulfillment in the Son of God born in Bethlehem. A different kind of peace, a shalom, that meant something much deeper than the mere absence of conflict.

In the so-called Pax Romana, fewer than 30 years before the first Christmas, Caesar Augustus had created a “peace” by suppressing human rights and forcing all in the Roman Empire into submission to him. So the Jews had a deep yearning for freedom, for light. This vision from Isaiah that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” carried a deep and poignant message of hope.

Listen to these words from God’s Word promising God’s Peace in the midst of our chaosIsaiah 2:1-4 and 9:2-7…. —-

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established   as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
  and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,  “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord   to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
   the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.  They will beat their swords into plowshares  and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
  nor will they train for war anymore.

 

9:The people walking in darkness    have seen a great light;  on those living in the land of deep darkness   a light has dawned….

 

For to us a child is born,    to us a son is given,    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace     there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne    and over his kingdom,  establishing and upholding it    with justice  and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal  of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

 

God’s presence is associated with light throughout the scriptures, as we will see in every week of this series. I am struck by the idea that one commentatorbrought to light” that even the reference in Isaiah 2 to “all the nations streaming” to the mountain of the Lord’s house connects to light. The Hebrewnaharu” (stream like water or flow like a river) can also mean “shine in joyful radiance.” As the nations move closer to God, we radiate the light of God – we reflect it.

We will see this motif repeated throughout this season and thus, the stars in the visual space and the Advent Candles lit every week help us to “come closer” to God’s radiance and to take that radiance and “walk” it out into the world. Isaiah’s use of “walking in God’s paths” is a poetic use of metaphor to point us toward committing ourselves to live in ways that create more justice, more compassion, more light in the world around us. Someone has said, “Light is what makes it possible to follow a path.”

 

And don’t you love the iconic message of turning the weapons of war into the tools of gardening, of growing and nurturing (swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks). We are invited to use our ingenuity, our creativity, our energy for good and for building up. To turn this into a debate about war, or even about 2nd Amendment rights, is not the point – but rather to acknowledge the effects of war and our human capacity to reach across divides and find our common humanity. This is the building-up work that we have to do.

This is so poignantly expressed in the story of the WWI “Christmas truce” of 1914.

I love to discover the origins of words, and when I looked uptruce,” I found that it comes from the root word for “faith, faithfulness, assurance of faith, covenant, truth, fidelity, promise.” Wow. Now, all this is complex because we don’t advocate for a truce, or “silence,” in order to sweep the concerns of tyranny and oppression aside, but that in the pursuit of justice, our covenant and promise is to the thriving prosperity of all humankind.

In the silencing of war, if only for a day, we can hear the cries of the suffering of humanity and ask, “Is this the way out of the dark night or is there another way?” Certainly Jesus’ “prince-of-peaceness” and “mighty-Godness” play out in an unimaginable way for those that expected something quite different. The “Prince of Peace” transforms our lives in calling us to right relationship around tables and on the roadway and to right living (right-eous-ness), including our day-to-day compassion for those who might not be like us.

In 2014 a radio play was performed, the 100th anniversary of the event Gerri and Scott talked about in their Advent Candle-lighting script. Listen to a portion of that British radio broadcast:

 

Script

Host of the broadcast (Scott L): “… a remarkable story emerged from the front line trenches [of WWI]. Though accounts vary, it seems that in the week leading up to Christmas 1914, groups of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings, cigarettes and songs between their trenches. The unofficial ceasefires allowed soldiers on both side to venture out into No Man’s land – the stretch of land between the German and British trenches – to collect and bury the bodies of dead soldiers. One version of events has it that the Germans began singing “Stille Nacht”, “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve. British soldiers, recognizing the tune, joined in. Some groups of soldiers even finished up with a game of footy (soccer) together.

“Actual letters from British soldiers who witnessed the truce give us a glimpse of that Christmas Eve on the Western Front 100 years ago. Here is what some of them said about what happened:”

Voice 1 (Dick Mc): “The Germans started singing and lighting candles about 7.30 on Christmas Eve, and one of them challenged anyone of us to go across for a bottle of wine. One of our fellows accepted the challenge and took a big cake to exchange.”

Voice 2 (Julie Mc): “We came from our mouse-holes and saw the Germans advancing towards us and waving cigarette boxes, handkerchiefs and towels. They had not rifles with them and there we know it could only be a greeting and that it was alright.”

Voice 3 (Vern L): “We had a church service and sang hymns, we met the Germans midway between the trenches and wished each other a ‘Merry Christmas’. We exchanged buttons, badges, caps, etc, and we all sang songs.”

Voice 4 (Gary R): “They gave us cigars and cigarettes and toffee and they told us they didn’t want to fight, but had to. Some could speak English as well as we could and some had worked in Manchester. The Germans seem very nice chaps who were awfully sick of the war.”

Voice 5 (Dick S): “We were able to move about the whole of Christmas Day with absolute freedom. It was a day of peace in war…. It is only a pity that it was not a decisive peace.”

Host: “In a letter sent from the front on 29th Dec 1914, Staff sergeant Clement Barker reports that during the truce British soldiers went out and recovered 69 dead comrades in No Man’s Land and buried them. Sgt Barker also reports that an impromptu football match then broke out between the two sides when a ball was kicked out from the British lines into No Man’s Land. Another soldier writes about how the truce came to an end at 3pm on Christmas day when a German officer called his men in:”

Voice 6 (Darrell Mc): “A German soldier said to me ‘today (Christmas Day) nice; tomorrow, shoot.’ As he left me he held out his hand, which I accepted, and said: ‘Farewell, comrade.’ With that we parted….”

[the host of the television broadcast continues…]

Host: “Remembering this truce a century on isn’t just about what happened then. It’s about what we, God’s children and followers of the Prince of Peace, can do now, in the midst of conflict and fear in the 21st century. What we can do today, right now – [this] Christmas, to help our families, our communities, our world hang on to our humanity in the face of brutality? What can we do to continue to love one another and to care about those we don’t even know, while so much around us shouts at us to hate and fear and give up on the real possibilities for peace and reconciliation? How can we meaningfully pray for those we call enemies today as well as those who were enemies in 1914? [then the host explains what will happen in the television special:] “In the same way soldiers, British and German soldiers, made a human to human connection with each other by sharing Christmas greetings and singing, we’re going to connect and meet [as two congregations]… to share a bit about who we are, sing the carol, ‘Silent Night’ together, and celebrate the Good News of God’s saving love coming to us as a baby on  Christmas Day.

“As two congregations – one in Britain and one in Germany – we are saying ‘yes’ to the possibility of peace in world of conflict by sharing a Christmas Eve connection with those we once called “enemy”. Even though our countries have not been in conflict for nearly 70 years – we remember that we once feared each other, even hated each other.

Even so, then – as now – our congregations were full of people who loved life, longed for peace, dreamed about a better future for their families, and struggled with the challenge of how to walk faithfully with God. People just like us.”

[end script]

 

Our exploration of the hymn “Silent Night” for this Advent/Christmas season is a way of “shining a light” on the power of reaching out across divides and getting silent enough to listen to the “hopes and fears of all the years” of those we tend to cast as the enemy (or simply as “different”). We hope this WWI story offers a powerful reminder that, like that one person who issued the initial invitation to come out of the “mouseholes” and connect face to face, we each have the ability to reach out across divides and connect because we are humans with common human needs and, deep down, we all have the desire for peace for ourselves and our children.

It might just change the course of history, even if only for a day.

 

Gareth Higgins, an Irish writer and sociological-philosopher, has said: “There are lots of ways to prevent violence, lots of ways to repair its consequences, lots of ways to build beloved community. In a polarized society there may be no more effective violence-prevention-measure than building bridges, or at least none more accessible.

(So his proposal is:) Get to know at least one person who votes differently. It’s not necessarily easy. But it is necessary. And the history of conflict transformation proves it works. Start with the person of different political views with whom you feel most comfortable. Just get to know each other. This is the work.”

 

In just a few minutes we approach the “Table of our God”, as our choir sang earlier. At this Table sits our Lord Jesus with Judas who had betrayed Him and Peter about to deny Him; also there was a traitorous tax collector in Matthew and Simon, a political Jewish zealot; and business competitors, Simon & Andrew and James & John; a motley group of men (and women) who had strong disagreements and occasional arguments; all who loved Jesus and made the life-choice to serve Him together!

 

This is God’s Peace in our homemade chaos! This Advent season, let’s let Him in, and experience truce-peace, in Jesus’ name.

 

Prince of Peace, transform our hearts and minds today, to discover Your real Peace, and to live so that that Peace delivers Your grace and love and hope and light in our very dark world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Resources:

Higgins, Gareth; https://www.theporchmagazine.com/articles/2018/10/2/talk

 

McFee, Marcia; www.worshipdesignstudio.com

 

Script of WWI tribute courtesy of PictureWise Productions; http://www.picturewise.co.uk

11/25/2018 = Revelation 21:1-6 = “The Culmination of Good News”

(Click HERE to listen to this message.)

Mark Wheeler

Revelation 21:1-6

“The Culmination of the Good News”

11/25/2018, Christ the King Sunday

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                

 

Today is Christ the King Sunday! This is the end of the church calendar, the conclusion of the liturgical year. It is the culmination of the Good News!

Today’s Scripture reading is actually often read during the weeks between Easter and Pentecost. We have sung a song in previous Advent seasons that says, “It’s not about the manger, or the angels, or the shepherds, or the wisemen. It’s not about the presents, or the feeling, or coming home, or the snow. It’s about the cross; it’s about my sin. It’s about how Jesus came to be born once so that we could be born again. It’s about God’s love, nailed to a tree. It’s about every drop of blood that flowed from Him when it should have been me. It’s about the stone that was rolled away. So that you and I could have real life someday. It’s about the cross!

The Resurrection story begins at Christmas-time. But it doesn’t end at Easter. Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit, comes 40 days later. And the rest of the year we concentrate on growing in faith and understanding. Today, Christ the King Sunday, culminates with that Good News!

 

Hear the Word of God, from Revelation 21:1-6….—-

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her [beloved] husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me (this would be John, the Apostle, the Gospel writer, the prisoner on Patmos to whom God revealed the events of this book): “It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life….” (Revelation 21:1-6, NIV)

 

This is the close of the Bible (almost – there is one more chapter). The Christmas “season” is hasn’t quite begun and maybe the tree just went up (or is about to). Today we celebrate the culmination of the liturgical calendar, the church year, declaring the purpose for Christmas! The world’s favorite Christmas carol, “Silent Night”, closes with the beautiful proclamation, “Jesus, Lord at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.

 

And because Christ is Lord, God nudges us toward new life and possibilities in the new church year. He makes all things new!

What is being born anew within us?

 

In reading this passage from Revelation the Sunday before Advent begins, I want to connect our Advent series into the birth of peace, joy, love and hope in the presence of Jesus Christ with the vision of the new heaven and new earth being born in us for the New Year.

 

I just watched a movie, Under the Tuscan Sun (not my favorite rom-com, but) in which we hear this line: (In Italianto give birth” is “dare a la luce”, (pronounced DAH-ray ah lah LOO-chay), which means, literally, “to give to the light”. Indeed, those Italians are incredibly poetic to describe the baby bursting into the world as “giving way to the light.” The baby comes out of the dark warmth of the womb into the light of the world. And what is the baby’s response? CRY!

Jesus tells His disciples that we must “be born again” … we must be made new (John 3:3). This is, like our Revelation text, in line with ancient wisdom. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah proclaims “a new heaven and earth” (65:17).

Paul tells the Corinthians (II Corinthians 5) that “everything has become new.” What does it mean to be born anew?

We can find some powerful insight as we consider what happens as we hit the light of a new day, every morning.

What will we do when we encounter the light of new life in Christ?

 

Some babies have to be encouraged to cry. Was that true for any of yours? They need to fill their lungs with air to survive and so they need, well, “encouragement.” In America, in a hospital, that encouragement comes from a smack on the baby’s bum. Right?

Sometimes life gives us a “wake up call” and we realize that we are barely breathing. New life invites us to new gulps of breath.

The Greek word for “breath” is pneuma (we get words like “pneumonia”). It also the same word for “spirit”. In Latin it is “Spirare” (“respiration” and “inspiration”).

God’s Spirit and physical breath are both essential if we are to live to full capacity.

 

Some babies need to have their eyes cleared so they can open them and see. What might we be hiding from, needing to “take the wool out from over our eyes” and face the things we need to change in order to grow into what God created us to be? How do we insulate ourselves from the light through denial or dread or fear?

God’s presence and strength are with us, He dwells with us (John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” [The Message translation says, “He moved into our neighborhood”], John 1:14 continues with, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”, Revelation 21:3 – “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”)!

It is time to step into that “glorious” (filled with light) existence with confidence.

 

And perhaps if we come through, take a big breath, open our eyes to see, have a good cry to find our voice in this world, the silence that follows is not just calm and settled silence, it is anticipatory silence like breath held in expectation.

 

What will the next sound be? How will we fill the silence? What will we say? How will we now be the ones made in the image of the Light of Life and following the footsteps of the One whose Star shines on humankind, how will we bring “peace on earth, goodwill to ALL creation,” so that a new heaven comes to this new earth?

 

King of all kings, please be Lord of our lives, making all things new, every day, and give us Your vision for how to live into Your new heaven and new earth, starting right now, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Resources:

Gruber, Franz Xaver; Joseph Mohr; “Silent Night, Holy Night”; 1817-’18.

 

Statema, Jamison; Daniel Ball; “It’s About the Cross”; Ball brothers Music; 2011.

 

Wells, Audrey; Frances Mayes; “Under the Tuscan Sun”; 2003.

 

 

11/18/2018 = Jonah 1-4 = Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS: Jonah – “What’d He Say?”

(Click HERE to listen to what Pastor Mark thinks God said…)

Mark Wheeler

Jonah 1-4

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS:

Jonah – “What’d He Say?

11/18/2018

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,           

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                 

 

Have you ever had a boss or a teacher or a friend give you a task, and you really didn’t want to do it? Maybe there were legit reasons for not wanting to, but, whatever, you really didn’t want to?

Wives give their husbands Honey-do” lists, right? And sometimes, husbands, you know you try to wriggle your way out of some of the things on your list.  (Has any husband ever had enough nerve to give your wife a list of “things you just expect her to do without question”? … I don’t think so…)

In 1982, I lived in So Cal, and my parents lived just outside of Chicago, IL – 2,000 miles away. I was 21 years old, and drove an 8-year old Ford Pinto (some of you know what that might mean). My best friend, Bruce, had spent a summer on a mission trip to Colombia at which he had fallen in love with Karen, a girl from Michigan. Bruce invited me to be best man at his wedding, an hour north of Detroit, MI, in June 1982. I was already driving the 2,000 miles to visit my parents for a couple weeks, so I figured I could pretty easily drive the extra 300 miles to Davisburg, MI, so I proudly said Yes.

After the Saturday wedding Bruce asked me to drive their wedding presents back home to Fullerton, CA, where their apartment would be waiting for them. This assignment was one I was willing and able to do, my car was empty other than myself, my suitcase, and my case of Coca Cola caffeine.  But what I hadn’t figured was that I was supposed to report in for work in So Cal on Tuesday morning, and I was heading out of northern Michigan on Sunday morning, driving 2,500 miles in my ’74 Ford Pinto, solo!

I pulled into my job at 11:00am Tuesday morning – 15 minutes of sleep and 52 hours of driving after leaving Davisburg, MI! You don’t know how many times I had wished I had said No to Bruce’s invitation during those 52 hours!

 

Today we finish our Sermon Series looking at some of our favorite VBS and Sunday School lessons – stories of Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, Abraham & Isaac & Jacob, Moses, Joshua & Rahab, Ruth & Boaz, Samson, we watched as God chose a young shepherd boy to become the next King of Israel, then this young King-in-waiting shot down the giant-sized Goliathan from Gath, we watched Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego in that fiery furnace, and Daniel planting a new worshipping community in that Den of Lions.

 

Today we read about a guy who received some instructions and did everything he could to get out of following them.

 

Listen to the Word of God today from Jonah 1-4 (starting on P. 654). Listen for God’s voice to you; what is God saying to you this morning? Hear God’s voice …. —-

I’m guessing that most of us here have heard the story of when the Word of the Lord comes to a man named Jonah the son of Amittai, “Go east to the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it because they are some kinda great sinners there.”

But Jonah runs the other way, catches a boat out of Joppa (the oldest port-town in continuous use in the world) and heads west for Tarshish. But while on board, we’re told, the Lord causes such a violent storm on the sea that the sailors start throwing cargo overboard and each one prays to their own gods from wherever they came from. But Jonah had gone below deck to steerage and fallen asleep. The captain of the ship finds Jonah, wakes him up, scolds him for not praying to his God.

Then the sailors all decided to figure out who is to blame for making his god angry. And the cards point to Jonah. So they ask him what he had done; where did he come from; which god was his god.

He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship YHWH, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

10 This terrified them …

11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

Eventually that’s exactly what they do to Jonah – they throw him overboard!

and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord (YHWH), and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to Him17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah spends a whole chapter, one-fourth of his story, praying – he prays confessing his sin, praying for help, declaring God’s greatness, and promising to tell everyone he meets,

Salvation comes from the Lord.”

10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

 

But that is not where the story ends! The “dry land” that God spits Jonah out onto was on the coast of Israel; Nineveh was still over 800 miles inland to the east (today’s Mosul, Iraq)! That’s when the Bible tells us: Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

This time, of course, Jonah does go to Nineveh. And he tells the people exactly how great of sinners they are. And, are you ready? The people all believe God! They repent! They pray and fast! And God, apparently very gladly, accepts their repentance as legitimate and proper!

And this is when Jonah loses it!

4 … “Isn’t this what I saidLord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah’s emotional meltdown continues for a while and God tries to do some object lessons using a plant, but the Jonah story ends with Jonah still unhappy and God asking a question.

… Jonah said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

 

I don’t know where you connect with this story. I have heard countless pastors claim that being a pastor was the last thing they wanted – they ran as far and as fast as they could to not be a pastor – it’s almost like a badge of honor to claim that being a pastor is not what you love doing, but rather it’s what God forced you into!

That is not my story. I knew God was calling me into some kind of ministry role from my freshman year in high school. And I look forward to seeing how that will work itself out for me. (Btw, I started at this church on the Sunday before Thanksgiving 1994 – 24 years ago, today – and I love serving God with you!) And, while I have great days and days I wished I didn’t have to live through, I love doing what I do.

I have little stories of trying to get out of a job, but they are not life-callings, I don’t think.

Maybe proposing to Jennifer?I don’t know God, do I deserve a wife as good as Jennifer? OK, I’ll propose…. See God? I knew she would say Yes!” I guess that doesn’t count, does it….

 

Today’s Bulletin covers have a cartoon of a man reading a How-to-Run-from-God book by Jonah, and he says, “It just says, ‘Don’t!’” (The other cartoon some of you have is Jonah sitting inside the whale’s stomach reading a book called “Idiot’s Guide to Following God’s Will”.

And that tends to be the main lesson people get from this amazing storywhen God tells you to do something, do it! That’s one meaning of the Sermon Title, “What’d He Say?” – If God said it, do it! (The choir sang, “Do you hear what I hear?” – it’s a different context, but still reminds us to listen when God speaks.

 

But I think there’s a deeper lesson – not just one of obedience, but one of understanding and attitude. Today is the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and this VBS story about hearing and obeying also shows us who God is and how God wants His children to be….

 

God asks Jonah – and I believe He is asking us – “should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?

Should I not be concerned for the widow next door, or the Rogers High School students down the street, or the refugees escaping terrorism in their home countries, or the drug addict across the street? For whom should I not care? And if you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, should you also not love these neighbors?

Whom do we have the right to not love? Right? Whom should we not share God’s Good News of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ? Is there someone we are permitted to hate so much that we don’t share God’s perfect, undeserved, love with? We do not have that right!

“What’d He Say?” Love my neighbors? Yes indeed!

Do you hear what I hear?Perfect song today, Donna, choir. This song was written in 1962, the composers say it was a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It applies perfectly with the Jonah story, too:

Said the night wind to the little lamb – do you see what I see? A star dancing in the night…

          Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy – do you hear what I hear? A song high above the trees…

          Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king – do you know what I know? A child shivers in the cold…

          Said the king to the people everywhere – Listen to what I say – Pray for peace, people, everywhere

                   The child will bring us goodness and light.

 

Listen to what I say, “Pray for peace, people, everywhere, every day. The Child whose birth we celebrate next month brings us goodness and light – and I love you so much that I must tell you that Good News!”

 

Thank You, YHWH God, because Jonah’s story absolutely tells our own stories! We think we can run from You, and we think we can judge other people’s character and destiny better than You! We forget how really good Your Good News really is! Today, Lord, we hear what You say, and we choose to share that love with every “neighbor” we encounter, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Resources:

Fox, Margalit; “Gloria Shayne Baker, Composer and Lyricist, Dies at 84”; The New York Times; March 11, 2008.

Regney, Noel; Gloria Shayne; “Do You Hear What I Hear?”; Regent Music Corporation; 1962.

 

 

11/11/2018 = Daniel 6:1-28 = Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS: Daniel – “Lion’s Den”

(Click HERE for today’s audio message)

Mark Wheeler

Daniel 1:1-6; 6:1-28

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS:

Daniel – “Lion’s Den

11/11/2018

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                

At our September Presbytery Summit we had the pleasure and privilege of commissioning into service and into a brand new position called Presbytery Expeditor, Katie Stark, whom you will all get a chance to meet in a few minutes. She serves our Lord by leading this Presbytery into new understandings of how denominational gardens might grow in this 21st century. It wasn’t too may years ago that churches were planted by Presbyteries or by particular congregations, and the working theory was, like the quote from that 1989 baseball movie starring Kevin Costner, an Iowa corn farmer, who heard a voice that said, “If you build it, they (sic) will come.” (Field of Dreams)

Our own church, back in 1907, started as a vision of 4th Memorial Church (at the time, 4th Presbyterian Church). Their 1905 Session Minutes record something about “providing a Sunday School for the children who live way up in the boonies of Spokane, as far north as Spokane will ever go (almost as far as Wellesley Ave!).” And a year after they got that started, our church was chartered. They built it, and we came.

But in this 21st Century, what we’re seeing, is that that philosophy no longer works. Katie is helping us see how to be the Church of Jesus Christ in this latest century.

As we continue our current Sermon Series looking at some of our favorite VBS and Sunday School lessons – stories of Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, a few about Abraham & Isaac & Jacob, Moses, Joshua & Rahab, & Ruth & Boaz, a look through the book of Judges, and we watched as God chose a young shepherd boy to become the next King of Israel, then this young King-in-waiting took on a giant-sized Goliathan professional cage-fighter, and last week we jumped another 400 years forward after the Babylonian Empire conquered Israel and took its people captive, including Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego, as we continue this series today, we experience another example of how a worshipping community is planted in a brand new way.

 

Today we read about the fourth guy that we met last week when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and took those guys captive. By the time we get to Daniel chapter 6 another country, Media, and their King Darius, had taken over world power.

Listen to the Word of God today from Daniel 6:1-28 wherein we find what may be Daniel’s most famous story. Listen for God’s voice to you; what is God saying to you this morning? Hear God’s voice …. —-

King Darius (king of the Medes, who had conquered the Babylonians)

had appointed 120 Satraps, leaders, and 3 managers in charge of them. This plan eliminated the need for mid-term elections, but it did nothing to eliminate the political name-calling and back-stabbing. You see, Daniel, had proven himself to King Darius as the most capable and most reliable leader in the Kingdom, so King Darius planned to appoint Daniel over the whole Kingdom!

Well, you can imagine what all these Satraps and managers thought of that plan. So they conspired a way to change King Darius’ plans. Knowing that Daniel was a faithful Jew, who worshipped and prayed to YHWH, the God of Creation and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, they advised King Darius to make a law that everyone must worship HIM as god, and that anyone who did not do this would be fed to the lions.

So king Darius made this a law – the most important law in the land!

10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help12 So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions’ den?

The king answered, “The decree stands—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.”

13 Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” 14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.

15 Then the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, “Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.”

16 So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”

With Daniel in the den of starving lions they closed the opening with a stone, and then they sealed the stone closure with the king’s wax seal. King Darius went home, went to bed, and spent the night tossing and turning because he was so upset about what he had been forced to do.

First thing in the morning he ran to the cave and hollered through the stone door:

Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”  (Was he hopeful? What did he expect to get as an answer?)

21 Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! 22 My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.  (Does this sound like the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego after their fiery furnace fiasco? – Now, be careful, what happens next is seldom included in the VBS lessons, so listener’s discretion is advised….)

24 At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.  (OK, back to the Rated G part of the story:)

25 Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth:

“May you prosper greatly!     26 I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel(Nebuchadnezzar said the same thing in chapter 3 – but Darius goes further, listen🙂   “For he is the living God       and he endures forever;   his kingdom will not be destroyed,
    his dominion will never end.
27 He rescues and he saves;       he performs signs and wonders    in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel
    from the power of the lions.”

28 So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

What did you notice in today’s VBS story? Did you hear God call your name? What did God say to you? ….

We recognized a few similarities between this story and that of Shad, Shak and Abed, right? A law demanding that people break the first of the Ten Commandments, the main character(s) deciding to remain faithful to their God, resulting in a death sentence (fire/lions), and God protecting, rescuing, saving.

But, let’s look a little more deeply in this Lion’s Den for a minute. Remember how so many of these Old Testament VBS stories give a glimpse of the New Testament revelation of God’s perfect love and power, grace and mercy, through His one and only Son?

  • In today’s story, what did Daniel get thrown into? (a lion’s den – a cave of death – a tomb)
  • How did they seal this would-be-tomb? (a stone to close the opening, sealed for assurance of death)
  • And like the fourth man in the fiery furnace last week, remember how there was “one like the Son of God”?, in today’s storyGod sent an ‘angel’ to protect, to rescue, to save”. The word “angel” literally means “messenger” …… is this yet another embodiment of the pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus showing Himself some 550 years before the first Christmas?

 

What we find here is evidence that the sovereign YHWH’s work toward offering us a full-saving relationship with Himself by faith in Jesus Christ has always been His plan – fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son.

Daniel was rescued, delivered from death, saved, because he trusted God – and this revealed truth of God’s perfect demonstration of grace and power invites us to trust Him completely, when we might be scared to death of what the day holds, when we are staring death in the face, when we stumble in the dark because we just don’t know…. We are invited to trust God, and to put our lives, our livelihoods, in God’s hands.

Daniel also exemplifies for us how living our faith afresh, anew, in a fresh world might look. Daniel prayed, like he had every day, but in this story he did that against the law and in a window that allowed the world to look in and see. He held the ancient truth of the Gospel and his traditional means of worship – but he did that in bold new ways.

  • That forces us to ask how we worship and serve God with integrity and authenticity in ways that meet the challenges of 2019.
    • And with that I invite Katie to come up and share what her “expeditor” role is about and what doors that opens for us.
    • And while she comes up, I will remind you what our November newsletter announces regarding our empty lot just south of the church buildingkeep your eyes on that lot and watch how God is inviting us to participate with Him in some new ventures.

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Thank You, YHWH God, for Daniel’s story of trust in You and for Your trustworthy power and grace. Thank You for Katie Stark. We ask Your Word to be fulfilled in her work with our Presbytery, with our Church, that we might all live our faith well into Your call on our purpose through Christ our Lord, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

11/04/2018 = Daniel 3:1-30 = Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS: Shad, Shak & Abed – “Gives Us S’mores”

(Click HERE to find the audio link of this message.)

Mark Wheeler

Daniel 1:1-6; 3:1-30

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS:

Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego – “Give Us S’mores

11/04/2018

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,           

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                 

 

Who here this morning remembers what happened on October 16, 1991 – 27 years, 2 weeks ago – anyone? [Firestorm! 3-storey flames, 35,000 acres, over 100 homes lost – devastating.] I was not here then but I have heard stories.

Some of you have lived through other wild fires, or you have family members who have (just a year ago in CA).

 

When I first started serving as a pastor, in a small, unincorporated, 99% African American, low-income and not-very-educated township – just north of Sausalito, CA, in the wealthiest county in the nation – people described my virgin-ministerial experience there as “being baptized by fire”.

 

Are you in a fiery furnace right now? Is your job bringing you more pressure than you’re getting paid for? Is your relationship with a loved one burning through your soul? Does your money burn holes in your pockets faster than you can get it in a bank?

 

We are in our last month of our current Sermon Series looking at some of our favorite VBS and Sunday School lessons – stories of Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, a few about Abraham & Isaac & Jacob, Moses, Joshua & Rahab, & Ruth & Boaz, a look through the book of Judges, and we watched as God chose a young shepherd boy to become the next King of Israel, and then this young King-in-waiting took on a giant-sized professional cage-fighter.

 

Today we go about 400 years after King David, after there have been several kings, after the nation of Israel suffered through a civil war and became two independent nations each with their own kings, and then the new world-power nation of Babylon had invaded Israel and Judah and taken their citizens captive to Babylon.

 

Listen to the Word of God today from Daniel 1:1-6 wherein we will meet today’s characters, and then Daniel 3:1-30 where we find today’s story (starting on P. ____). Listen for God’s voice to you; what is God saying to you this morning? Hear God’s voice …. —-

1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.  The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.

Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. (These four were given new Babylonian names, their Hebrew identities were removed: Daniel was called Belteshazar, and the others were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.)

 

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide (this is a 90-foot tall, 9-foot wide statue), and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials (all the winners on this Tuesday’s mid-term ballot) to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.

Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews.They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May the king live forever! 10 Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.

13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High Godcome out! Come here!

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”

30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

 

Did you pay attention to that interchange? Today’s sermon will be to simply reveal seven key turning points of this story, and then to listen to/for the conclusions….

 

  • Nebu declares that everyone everywhere must worship him – egomaniacal and a little self-pitying.
  • Shad, Shak, Abed did not protest or throw rocks or tweet negative campaign ads – they simply went to Church and worshiped God! – they stayed true to their beliefs and understandings of what God expects and demands of His followers.
  • When they were confronted they did nothing to offend King Nebu, they simply stated that they would remain faithful to God!
  • Nebu posts negativity about their God – “what god could possibly save you?
  • Our God can and will save us”, but even if He doesn’t, we’re trusting Him! No peer pressure, no cultural changes, no political agendas or ideologies, nothing will drive us away from the truth of God’s Word and God’s will. Again, let me ask, what is the source of the flames you find yourself in? Where does the heat come from? Are the temptations to believe like our friends and colleagues, to turn away from God’s truth and mercy and power for transformation, overwhelming? Can we still trust God? Despite all the pressure to succumb to the temptations to drop our faith and ignore biblical teachings? If you haven’t yet cast your ballots, do – but not based merely on party lines or on personal historical votes; find the people and the issues that best line up with your biblical values.
  • Then there’s a Fourth man in the furnace? One like a son of the gods? Like the Son of Elohim? Pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus before He was born? EmmanuelGod with us (another Old Testament picture of the saving work of the New Testament Jesus Christ)? Can you remember that God is with you – through the medical fears, in the midst of the court proceedings, while on the phone with the bill collectors, in the middle of your struggle with a child who denies, rejects, how you thought s/he would live out their faith? There’s a Fourth man with you – the Son of God, the Holy Spirit, our heavenly Father will never leave you nor forsake you!
  • And, the story closes exactly opposite of how it began – King Nebu declares everyone everywhere must never say anything against the God of Shad, Shak, Abed or suffer the consequences – there is no other God like their God! Do you see what happens when we boldly live out our faith? It only takes a spark, to get a fire going and soon all those around, will warm up to its glowing – that’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it – you want to sing, it’s fresh like Spring – you want to pass it on.

 

Whatever is your fiery furnace, use it to make s’mores! Endure it with our victorious God in it with you.

 

Friends, God loves you, and He longs to give that love to you.

 

Thank You, YHWH God, for standing in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Thank You for protecting us from eternal flames through Your presence here, and by what this Communion Table represents. Thank You for being YHWH God, who saves and rescues and wins. Through Christ our Lord, in Jesus’ name. Amen.