05/29/2016 – I Peter 2:1-5 – Living Stones: “Sin: Watch for Varmints Hiding in the Cracks”

Click HERE for the audio version.

Mark Wheeler

I Peter 2:1-5

Living Stones: “Sin – Watch for Varmints Hiding in the Cracks”

05/29/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

We have a concrete driveway leading to our garage – and over this driveway’s 49 year history it has developed some cracks. Y’all know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Your driveway, or foundation, or retaining wall has cracks in it, too. What happens in those cracks? [Weeds grow from them, water gets in them and then freezes and expands and makes the cracks bigger; and ants make their homes in them!] It’s the ants that drive me crazy. It could be worse, they could be mice or spiders or snakes. But that’s the thing. If we don’t take care of the cracks that develop, critters move in. Varmints hide in those cracks.

Charles McRaven writes in his book called Building with Stone, “The cracks between the stones will invite every kind of inhabitant … be aware of the haven you are creating for snakes, spiders, wasps, scorpions, field mice, lizards, and even birds.

 

During these couple of months following Easter we are listening to the Apostle Peter, and hearing some Biblical instruction that’s been around for nearly 2,000 years, and is based on totally true counsel, about “good masonry” with the Bible believed as God’s trustworthy Word for being built into God’s Cathedral.

 

Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. This comes from a letter he wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, south Turkey, to people who faced death daily. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when we live like we believe what we say we believe.  I Peter 2:1-5….—-

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

 

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. What is Peter talking about? This counsel is about SIN. It’s about our choices to act in ways that are in direct defiance to what he calls “be[ing] holy, because [God] is holy.”

In Peter’s letters about being “living stones” that are built into the Cathedral of God, he says, watch the cracks! Varmints will move in and take over as soon as we ignore the little cracks in our rocky lives.

Sin weakens our spiritual structure; it creates “havens” for all sorts of self-destructive beliefs that result in self-destructive behaviors. These are our old self-centered ideas and ungodly passions; anything that makes us less than what God created us to be. Empty places in our hearts create “havens” within the cracks of our lives that harbor soul-destroying varmints like resentment, fear, self-condemnation, envy, unbelief, arrogance, gluttony, laziness.

Yet Peter does not instruct us to heroically overcome our human brokenness with moral striving, self-will, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-boot-straps determination, or a long list of dos and don’ts. Instead he shines the light of God’s healing love on our disordered desires and teaches us to surrender ourselves to the Lord with the confidence that Christ’s power and love will penetrate and remove the darkness, will make us whole and new human beings with an eternal perspective and purpose.

When we expose the dark cracks in our lives to the healing, cleansing work of God’s love, Christ can transform us into new people who flourish as “living stones”, in company with other “living stones” in God’s Cathedral of light!

But remember that we cannot fool God, and we rarely fool our neighbors – so don’t lie about those cracks. Find them, and fill them with God’s Holy Spirit before the critters of sin claim squatters’ rights.

 

OK, but Wheeler, what sins are you talking about? I mean, gossip isn’t as bad as stealing; and little white lies aren’t as bad as murder, right?

On Thursday as I was writing this part of this message my computer dinged, which meant I had a message to look at – and I got distracted by Facebook where one of my FB Friends posted a picture with the caption: “All animals want to live, where would you draw the line?” And the picture was a line-up of animals from pet dogs and cats to wild life (deer, moose, buffalo) to farm animals (cows and pigs and lambs) to fowls (ducks, geese and chickens). And someone had drawn their lines: before the pet cat (“if it was the apocalypse”), before the cow (“normal day”), after the chicken (“if I wanted to [score] with a [beautiful] vegan”).

It was kind of cute (and I mean no offense to vegans or vegetarians). But the timing was perfect for me! Where do we draw the line on sin?

 

Another Apostle, one of Peter’s good friends, John wrote in I John 3, “Everyone who sins breaks the law! In fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that [Jesus] appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin! No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him.”

Not to argue with John, but we all know that Paul has written, “All have sinned, and [all continue to] fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

So, what is John’s intent here? What does he meanNo one who lives in Jesus keeps on sinning? What do you think? [Last week we read Peter telling us to “be holy, just as God is holy!” Any sin is repugnant to God. In His perfect-ness, our imperfectness is unacceptable! Therefore, when we can sin and be OK with it, when we can sin and just brush it off with a “well, boys will be boys” attitude, when we can sin and excuse it to our genes or our upbringing or say “it’s OK, God will forgive me” – then we are showing signs of NOT worshiping God and serving Him only, NOT abiding in Jesus, NOT following Him or obeying His commands, NOT loving Him!]

Where did John get this idea? Listen to him record the words of Jesus Himself: “842 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! … 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.

 

Please. Hear me! No one can judge you about this but you yourself! And God! We are not given the freedom to judge each other as acceptable or not! But God is that judge! God has that authority! And God gives us the ability and the responsibility to judge ourselves (take the log out of our own eyes first)! That’s what John’s intention here is. That we would hold this up as a mirror and see ourselves in it! And repent. And receive the love God offers us in Jesus who takes away the sin of the world (to any/all who believe in His name!).

 

So how do we watch out for the varmints of sin that make their homes in the cracks of our faith? Last week, when we talked about being holy, living lives of holiness, because that is what God calls us to do, we talked about how the only way to even come close to that ideal is to be aware of the fact that we need Jesus, we need God’s Holy Spirit, we need to wake up in the morning and recommit our lives that day to worship God and serve Him only, and to go to bed at night wondering where we missed the mark so that the next day might be a little better.

It means, to use the Apostle John’s words, “abiding” in Christ. Abiding in Christ is a way of life that works itself out through the ups and downs of our spiritual journey. Even a simple longing for a new way of life, no matter how weak, is evidence of God already at work. We do not want more of God, we can’t want more of God, if the Holy Spirit wasn’t already at work.

 

Look again at today’s reading from I Peter 2:1-5. Is there anything in this passage which gives you hope of God’s love at work in you? Where do you see God transforming you into “living stonesfull of God’s love and usable in His Perfect Cathedral?

  • Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit – are we less mean and less dishonest this week than last week? That’s God’s grace at work!
  • Rid yourself of hypocrisy – are we more sincere and honest today than yesterday? That’s God’s power in our lives!
  • Rid yourself of envy – yes, even wishing we had it as “good” as our neighbor is a sinful varmint staking a claim on our heart – can we live with more generosity and less greed this year than we did last year? That’s God’s mercy revealing itself in us.
  • Rid yourself of slander of every kind – are our words more in the arena of helpfulness this morning than they were last week? That’s a sign of God’s presence dwelling in us.

Peter says that as we come to Jesus, the living Stone, we become living stones, being built into a spiritual house.

 

And wherever we discover cracks in our lives, places where a sin has taken root and started to grow through – that doesn’t mean we’re all through, that we might as well just give up and give in. Just the opposite. This is when we best hear those words from the Apostle John, in I John 3:5, “You know that [Jesus] appeared so that He might take away our sins.” He does that through His life and death and resurrection – and through our simply believing in Him as the Son of God who died for us while we were still sinning that all who believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life!

 

So, where are the “cracks” in this wing of the Cathedral of God – this wing being LPC, or even your particular place in His Holy Temple? What sins, both LPC corporate sins and personal sins in each of our own lives, need to be repented of?

How does God’s forgiveness of our sins repair the cracks?

And what “step toward holiness” is the step you will take today? In what ways will the world around us be blessed, maybe even be saved, by our “growing up in our salvation”?

 

This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, this Pentecost Season, let’s watch for the sin that we let hide in the cracks of our faith!

If you heard God calling your name today, if you sense that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant for you today, if you want your life to withstand life’s storms today – drop a note in the Offering Plate, and I’ll get with you later this week. Let’s dedicate, rededicate, our rocky past into service as living stones today!

 

Let’s rid ourselves of the “varmints”, and become sturdy stones in God’s Cathedral! Amen!

Happy Pentecost Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

 

Resources:

Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 49-56.

 

McRaven, Charles; Building with Stone; Storey Pub.; North Adams, MA; 1989.

Advertisements

05/22/2016 – II Peter 1:3-8 – Living Stones:”Steps to Holy Living”

For audio version, click here.

Mark Wheeler

II Peter 1:3-8

Living Stones: “Steps to Holy Living”

05/22/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

So, a man approached me the other day because his brother had died. These brothers were big-time businessmen, multimillionaires, and would cheat their mother out of her last dime. That’s just the kind of people they were.

The man who approached me said he would buy our church a whole new wing, with state-of-the-art electronics and all the bells and whistles we could dream up, if I would officiate his brother’s funeral and call him a saint, a holy man.

Well, you know me. I would love to get this church some new, fresh, 21st century equipment – but I’m also a guy who doesn’t like to lie. If you ask me if I like your new haircut, I’ll probably tell you….

So what do I do? I can’t call this lying, thieving, scoundrel of a man a saint!

So I thought and prayed about this a long time. Here’s my plan. After my opening remarks about his business accomplishments, I’ll say, “And compared to his brother, he was a saint!”

 

Obviously we’re not getting a new wing added to our church. (And obviously, that’s not at all a true story.)

 

Holy Living is really hard work! Just try to “be holy” for the next 40 minutes while I’m preaching! (You see? When you heard I was preaching for 40 minutes you already lost your “holy!)

 

But look at your Sermon Notes Page, right in the center of the page is a verse from I Peter 1:15. Peter is actually quoting from the Old Testament. What does it say? “Be holy, because I (that’s God speaking) am holy!

In Swahili: “Ni matakatifu, kwa sababu Mimi (that’s Mungu speaking) ni mtakatifu.”

It’s impossible, isn’t it? How do we/I be holy?

 

Well friends, we cannot be holy! At least not as holy as God requires us to be. At least, not by our own power.

 

Rowan Williams writes, “Christian people are ‘holy’ simply because they have been adopted by God into a relationship, into a family which calls God ‘Father’”.  Remember last Sunday’s sermon by Jamie Fiorino? Romans 8 records Paul’s proclamation that we have become children of God by God’s work of adopting us and making us co-heirs in His Kingdom. In John’s Gospel John tells us that “to all who did receive [Jesus], to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God!” (John 1:12-13).

But the process of having our entire identity shaped as God’s children takes a long time. It is slow work. Life-long work.

 

During these couple of months following Easter we have been invited to listen to the Apostle Peter, and hear some Biblical instruction that’s been around for nearly 2,000 years, and is based on totally true counsel, about “good masonry” with the Bible believed as God’s trustworthy Word for being built into God’s Cathedral.

 

Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. This comes from a letter he wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, south Turkey, to people who faced death daily. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when we apply ourselves to God’s available and reliable Word – the Bible.  II Peter 1:3-8….—-

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Look at your Call to Worship. Eugene Peterson, in his version of the New Testament called The Message, makes this passage from I Peter 1 seem alive and vital. “Roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. … As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.

 

Roll up your sleeves and put your mind in gearnot to do more work, not to try harder, but in order – to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives! Let yourselves be pulled in – “let go and let God” do His worklet yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life. “I am holy; you be holy!”

 

It seems that when we think of someone who “is holy we think of one of two types of people: Mother Teresa, a modern day saint of Christian living; or Ned Flanders, a modern day stain on Christian living.

We all know something of Mother Teresa: the Roman Catholic woman who founded the Missionaries of Charity among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India. She is a very positive view of being holy, but one that very few people can reach.

Ned Flanders is Homer Simpson’s next-door neighbor who truly is a good man, but who comes across as “holier than Thou” most of the time. He becomes a very negative view of being holy, and one that far too many people act out every day! Self-righteous and moral uptightness.

The Ned Flanders character represents so many Christians in the media, that being “holy” has become something to mock and laugh at. Acting “holy without an inner-spiritual change doesn’t please God or our neighbor.

But it’s not just Christians acting badly that have given “holiness” a bad name. People in general just don’t like moral and spiritual boundaries. The snake in the Garden of Eden convinced Adam and Eve that the good boundaries God set up (because He loves us) were really God’s way of being a spoil-sport. And you and I have been duped into thinking the same way!

 

But there is another way to look at this. C.S. Lewis wrote: “God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection. On the other hand, you must realize from the outset that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal.

He also wrote: “You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

 

Peter tells us that God has given us everything we need for a godly life.

But that does not make it easy; nor does it take away our responsibility to carry it out. Yes, God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting lifeGod did the work!

But we still have to do the work of receiving it.

James says, in James 4, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” Our work is to humble ourselves. And, for some of us, that is super hard work!

 

What is the work of receiving the gift God has for us when Jesus arrives? Acknowledging that we need this gift! Opening our hands, our hearts, our lives, to accept the gift (humbling ourselves in the sight of the Lord). And then using that gift as it was intended to be used – that is obedience!

No, we cannot earn the gift of salvation, or of full relationship with God as heavenly Father, or of the Holy Spirit filling our lives with His power – but once we have received it we have a responsibility to obey!

 

Peter says, “for this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” These are the steps (stepping stones?) to holy livingthese make us into living stones in God’s Cathedral!

 

My prayer for you today, my prayer for us as a church, my prayer for me as your Pastor, is that we can determine which of these “steps we are strongest in, which step is most sure-footed, most stable, most concrete – and then work on the next step. Pick just one step, and grow by praying and then becoming that step.

 

Maybe faith is where I need to start. Do I trust God enough today? Does He have rule over my bank account and my debit card?

Am I goodfaithful, steadfast, dependable, sturdy, reliable?

How’s my knowledge – of God’s Word and of God’s ways?

Knowing God’s Word does not automatically translate into living God’s Word – are my impulses under control, am I able to avoid temptations, how’s my anger management or my need for attention?

Can I persevere through the hardships – is joy and hope clouded out by despair and fear?

Godliness? Wow, this is hard. When people see me, do they see God’s character?

Mutual affection – this seems easy – do I love you as much as you love me? This word comes from the Greek word for love: filadelfia=brotherly love, fond-brotherness. Do we show that love in ways that we can each experience it? Am I too judgmental or too whiny or too stand-offish?

And love? How is this different? Mutual affection goes both ways. This love is the Greek word agaph: This is the I Corinthians 13 love, the love that asks for nothing in return. Am I able to love the person who grates against my every nerve? The woman at work, the man at the coffee shop, the insurance guy, the one who irritates my every cell?

 

Which one will you work on this week? Pray for that character trait every morning, be aware of your responses and your weaknesses in that area, and pray for God’s wisdom and Holy Spirit to fill you.

 

This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, this Pentecost Season, let’s step into Holy Living – on purpose!

If you heard God calling your name today, if you sense that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant for you today, if you want your life to withstand life’s storms today – drop a note in the Offering Plate, and I’ll get with you later this week. Let’s dedicate, rededicate, our rocky past into service as living stones today!

 

Happy Pentecost Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

Let’s be ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives! Amen!

 

Resources:

Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 41-48.

 

Lewis, C.S.; Mere Christianity; MacMillan; NY, NY; 1953; Pp. 158-160.

 

Williams, Rowan; Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief; Westminster john Knox; Louisville, KY; 2007; P. 112.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

05/15/2016 -Romans 8:14-27 – “New Language, Old Wounds”

Guest preacher today, Princeton Theological Seminary student, Jamie Fiorino, with baptisms and waving flags and more. Click here for the audio version.

Many Pentecost blessings on your faith and life.

 

Preachers are always looking for new ways to help you remember scripture and deepen your understanding of how God moves and works in our lives. Guest preachers are no different, so our Scripture reading this morning requires your participation. I am first going to read the scripture so that I know you have heard it before I ask you to be silly. So listen to the word of God.

 

Romans 8:14-27

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba!Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and ifchildren, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

 

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children ofGod in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

 

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will ofGod.”

 

This is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God.

 

I know this isn’t a typical Pentecost passage, but it does give us an idea of the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes to both the Jews and the Gentiles of Rome that by the Holy Spirit, we are led into a better understanding of our identity as children of God; the Holy Spirit helps us to hope despite our weakness; and the Spirit intercedes in our prayers, through God and in accord with God. To help us visualize these three activities, I’m going to read it the first paragraph again and if you have a red piece of fabric I want you to wave it around whenever I say the word “Spirit” and if you have a yellow piece I want you to wave it when I say the word “Hope” or “glory”.  Green and blue, we’ll get to you in a minute. Hear the word of the Lord:

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

 

Good job. Now, let’s add in the greens and blues. Green, when I read the word “God” or “Christ” or “Creation” you give it an enthusiastic wave. And the blue fabric: whenever I read the words “children” or “father”, wave it like you just don’t care. Ready? See the word of God:

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba!Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and ifchildren, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

 

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children ofGod in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

 

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will ofGod.”

 

So why did I do it that way? I believe that scripture is God-breathed and therefore it is alive, but sometimes we read it like it’s dead and just words on a page. I wanted to give some movement of scripture. But also, it was really fun to watch. Let us now pray for God’s illumination on this word, that it may move in our hearts.

 

In the first chapter of Acts, we see the beginning of this new company of believers: later called the Church. Jesus ascends to his throne and they elect a new apostle to fill Judas’ place. We’re told the church had about 120 people in it. These new Christians were gathered together for the Jewish Feast of Weeks, the celebration of new spring harvest and the giving of the law by Yahweh. And suddenly a violent sound filled the house and drops of fire fell upon them. Everyone was screaming in different languages. The scene must have been loud and chaotic because in no time, a crowd gathered around the house with commentary: they must be drunk. Peter stops everything and says: Please, it’s 9 a.m. They aren’t drunk, this is the work of the Holy Spirit as we were promised.

 

There are a lot of things to explore in just that one paragraph. I could talk to you about why these new believers of Christ are still gathering for a Jewish tradition. Is there a lesson in there about falling into old habits?

 

I could talk about the theological implications of the church gathering to celebrate the giving of the torah, the Law, from God to Moses on Mt. Sinai, but it is the Spirit (promised by Christ) that comes to them. Are we to interpret this as the Spirit replacing the law as the instigator of ethical living?

 

And what is the deal with tongues of fire?

 

But instead, this morning, I want to talk about the New York subway.

 

About two months ago, I had a day off from class and some friends visiting me so we decided to go into New York City. An hour train ride from campus, and we are dropped off in Penn Station, next to Madison Square Garden arena and five blocks from Times Square. At noon on any given day, there are more people in that 9-square block than all of Spokane County. We spent the day on the Upper West Side, visiting the dinosaurs at the Natural History museum and wandering through Central Park. We went to dinner at a wonderful Greek restaurant and then saw a show on Broadway. At the end of our day, we had to get back on the train and ride home to NJ. If you’ve never had to catch a train from a station, here’s how they work. You buy the ticket from a vending machine and wait in the lobby until your train is announced. You then have 10 minutes to find your gate, get downstairs to the train platform and find a seat on the train; however, in order to keep people from bunching up the back of the train and blocking the stairwell, they only open train doors are at the front end of the train. When our train was called, it was bedlam trying to find our gate and go through the single door, down the broken escalator stairs and walk the length of the train because at least 20 theater shows, a Metallica concert, a Bernie Sanders rally, and a New York Rangers hockey game all let out at the same time, and that’s in addition to the regular commuters in and out of Manhattan. We all crushed into the train lobby, about the size of three of these sanctuaries end to end. So when the Luke writes that the scene at Pentecost was “bewildering”, Penn Station is the scene that I picture. Languages I did not recognize, every skin color in the flesh rainbow, confusion, yelling, cursing, shoving, self-preservation, utter confusion. My friends and I got separated and didn’t find each other again until we reached the Princeton station and stepped out on the platform where we embraced in relief to find each other. When I picture and reenact Pentecost, I don’t think of it as the fun little moment that lasted 10 minutes. It was an all-day event that caused terror and wonder.

 

Paul wasn’t there that first birthday of the church; he had to hear about it later. And in the time between the day of Pentecost and when he wrote today’s scripture, there were a lot of ideas about what it means to be the church and to live under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

 

Those first believers had the unique blessing to literally be led by the tongue into a new identity as the children of God. Ever since God claimed them through covenants with Jacob and Abraham, the Jews were known as the heirs of God’s promises. God said, “These are my people. YOU are my people.” But because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus and the grace offered to all, those outside the tribe of Israel are welcomed into the family of God as siblings and co-inheritants. BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, WE ARE LED INTO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF OUR IDENTITY AS CHILDREN OF GOD. As an example, Paul writes that we call out “Abba! Father” which is a very strange turn of phrase. Abba means Father, but not in Greek, the language that Paul wrote the letter in and not in Hebrew, the language of the Jews, but in Aramaic, the foreign language most common in the region south of Israel. It’s an example of the language of adoption: we cry out with foreign words and it is the Spirit that, like a loving Father, dotes on us and convinces us we are safe in the language we understand.

 

My friend Katie adopted a daughter from Korea, named Bo. Katie and her husband brought Bo home to meet her new big sister, Lindsay. Lindsay was 5 years old and Bo was 2. Bo could walk and was beginning to speak, but obviously Korean not English. She was fond of exploring and clapping, but she was, from the moment she locked eyes on her, completely devoted to her sister, Lindsay. Bo followed Lindsay around the house and would cry, “Umma! Umma!” if Lindsay disappeared from her sight. Lindsay once spent the night at a friend’s house and Bo cried every minute she was gone—even in her sleep; Lindsay now hosts all the sleepovers. You see, “Umma” is the Korean word for mother. There was something about her adopted sister, Lindsay, that soothed Bo’s fears.

 

When we were children, there were a lot of things to be afraid of—things we didn’t understand or couldn’t completely comprehend: the thunking noise in the basement, floating too far from the edge of the pool, the shadows in the closet. Even as adults, the world is a scary place: the thunking noise under the hood or under the stethoscope, floating away from the things that ground us, the shadows on the street and in our minds. Paul writes that these present sufferings and fears are not even worth comparing to the glory that is about to be reveled: the dissolution of our fears in the glory of God. And not just that, more: THE HOLY SPIRIT HELPS US TO HOPEDESPITE OUR WEAK INCLINATION TO FEAR. What do you suffer from that is stronger than the glory of God?

 

Paul uses the analogy of birth. A woman cries out while in labor, from fear and from pain. But the act of labor doesn’t just produce something squishy and beautiful and new to the world, it produces within the woman a whole new identity: umma, mother. Labor brings forth something new and changes the world while at the same time easing our pain and fear. I recently had a conversation with the moderator of the PCUSA’s General Assembly about the future of the church. There is a lot of fear of the unknown and pain over past actions, and that fear and pain has been, I think, smothering our potential as the Body of Christ. What if we viewed the present sufferings of the church not as the groanings of death, but as labor pains, producing something new? What if, in your life, you viewed your current trials and tribulations not as the end of something, but the bringing forth something new and squishy and beautiful?

 

The Spirit intercedes and helps our gaze focus on what is to come, and Paul asks a great question: who hopes for what they already have, what they can already see? Only a fool, that’s who. With the Holy Spirit as our guide and intercessor, we can hope for what is unseen and we can pray with power and assurance that our hope is in the right place.

 

My friend Paula had cystic fibrosis and had been on oxygen as long as I had known her, waiting for a double lung transplant that would extend her life. Paula was a petite woman, just a wisp of a thing. So small that she couldn’t have the lungs of an adult, she needed a parent to give consent to donate the organs of their dead child. She was on experimental and costly drugs, in and out of the hospital, and tired; always tired. I was her pastor and we spent a lot of time in prayer and discussion about how do we pray for a kid to die so that she could live. We decided we would pray with hope for a full life, an abundant life. And so it was on Pentecost Sunday 2014, our prayer for abundant life was answered, not in the way we wanted but in the way we hoped. Paula passed away in her sleep, about the time the congregation was singing the words of this hymn:

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

till I am wholly thine,

till all this earthly part of me

glows with thy fire divine.

 

Breathe on me, Breath of God,

so shall I never die,

but live with thee the perfect life

of thine eternity.

 

That was the best worst Pentecost I will ever know, because I learned the lesson: who hopes for what is seen? Friends, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who can shake the house with violent wind and soothe our fearful minds, we too are being led to a hope-filled place of perfect peace. Amen.

05/08/2016 – II Peter 1:16-21 – Living Stones: “God’s Word Is Available and Reliable”

For this week’s audio version click here.

Mark Wheeler

II Peter 1:16-21

Living Stones: “God’s Word Is Available and Reliable”

05/08/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Who here remembers the very first church song you learned – maybe as a young child, maybe taught you by your mother?

Here’s the one I think I learned first – I’ll bet it was early on many of your play-lists, too:

Jesus loves me, this I know – for the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me – the Bible tells me so!

If I’m wrong about that song being first, then it was this one, for sure – (How about you?):

The B-I-B-L-E! Yes that’s the book for me.

I stand alone on the Word of God!

The B-I-B-L-E!

Children, as well as adults, find comfort in knowing that there are places of safety, places where they can find help and guidance, places where they can trust the source to be trustworthy! The Bible is just such a place!

 

The First Century spiritual climate wasn’t all that different from our 21st Century spiritual climate. People practice individualistic religions of personal preference. Even our prayers tend to be prayers for what I want, or think I need. When was the last time we prayed together and just listened??

2,000 years ago people could pick from a spiritual smorgasbord of cults and deities that they felt most met their personal tastes and desires. As long as you worshiped the Emperor and the statue of Caesar, you could add all the other gods you wanted to, and no one really cared.

Today we hear things like, “Whatever is true for you is true for you … whatever is true for me is true for me.” There is no absolute Truth allowed in our society. It’s really all the same thing.

 

Peter says something totally different, though. And John and Jude agree with him. “Jesus is the Truth (capital T Truth); and we can tell you about Him!

Peter agreed with the Jewish assertion that there is only one God, and we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength! And Jesus made God visible and tangible! This so shocked and surprised those First Century listeners that they stood in awe of this Good News!

And, Peter said, we don’t have to search out the Truth about this God or even this Jesus by ourselves. God has not hidden His Truth! We are not left to grope blindly, guided by nothing more than our own hopes and dreams! God has given His Truth; He has revealed His Truth so that we might continually read, study, and apply it to our lives every day!

The Living Word of God, found in Scripture, the B-I-B-L-E, is the help we need so that when the rains fall and the rivers rise and the wind beats against our house – we will not fall because our faith is built on that Solid Rock!

 

During these couple of months following Easter we are invited to listen to the Apostle Peter, and hear some Biblical instruction that’s been around for nearly 2,000 years, and is based on totally true counsel, about “good masonry” with Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone of God’s Cathedral.

 

Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. This comes from a letter he wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, south Turkey, to people who faced death daily. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when we apply ourselves to God’s available and reliable Word – the Bible.  II Peter 1:16-21….—-

 

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. (Peter was with James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus when this happened. All three synoptic Gospels tell us about this.)

19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

 

Not only can we tell you about our personal convictions, says Peter, but we also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable!

Luke tells the story about the events of the day Jesus was resurrected from the dead about two disciples, not the main 12 Apostles but just two other guys who followed Jesus, who were walking home to Emmaus from Jerusalem and the resurrected Jesus catches up to them and He tells them, from Moses and the prophets (from Genesis, the Books of Moses, thru Malachi, the major and minor prophets – that’s the whole Old Testament) how the promises of the some-day Messiah, the coming Christ, the descendant of Abraham who would come to save the world, were fulfilled in Jesus Himself!

Peter tells us that this Old Testament is available, “we also have the prophetic message”, and is completely trustworthy, “as something completely reliable”!

 

A week ago we had our Spring New Member Class, and I asked at the beginning, as I always do, what the participants think the Bible is. “In one word, or one phrase, how would you describe what the Bible is?

The answers that people share almost never surprise me: God’s Word, the Truth, Guide Book, story of God’s power and love.

Do you have a copy of the Bible in your possession? That’s one of the questions we will learn from the families and leaders of the church and the Shim Children’s Center in Kiminini, Kenya. Do you own a Swahili version of the Bible? It is available for you to read!

Is it trustworthy? Do you trust it as God’s Word to tell you what you need to know about God and about yourself? If it is trustworthy, do you obey what it tells you to do?

Peter goes on to say, “you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

 

Can someone shout out a benefit of incorporating God’s Word into our lives as believers?

Do you see what we just did there? As a gathered community of faith, a local church, we added to each other’s benefits. It’s entirely possible that no on other that Diana would have thought of “vitamins” as a benefit of having God’s Word in our hearts, trusting the Bible as dependable and reliable as a source of Godly wisdom. Thank you, Diana, for adding that particular benefit to our collective wisdom!

 

In today’s Call to Worship we read in Hebrews 10 that part of being a collection of Christ-followers together is that we “consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together … encouraging one another, and all the more as we see the Day approaching.”

Can someone give a shout out about how, maybe, you have experienced being strengthened/supported/encouraged through a difficult season of your life by being involved in this wing of God’s Cathedral, by being a part of LPC? Describe some ways you have been blessed through your church:

This is what John Calvin calls “be[ing] guided and receiv[ing] maternal care until [we] grow into the perfection of faith.

 

We are to build our spiritual “house” – our church mission, our lives of faith, our families – on God’s firm foundation, with Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone; and this requires that the Bible be our Book!

We live in a world that insists we build our “house” on sand; that we ignore the Truth taught us in Scripture; that we deny the Divine claims of Jesus Christ.

Living like we believe what we say we believe – as followers of Jesus Christrequires a desire to live counter-culturally! Even deciding to get up on a Sunday morning and giving that time to the Lord has become a unique and counter-cultural activity! (And yes, I know that I am preaching to the choir here.)

But, as an encouragement to yourself, write down on the bottom of your Sermon Notes Page any description you can think of of an experience in your life in which you had to choose to act in accordance to your Christ-centered beliefs in spite of pressure to do otherwise. What happened? Was there a Bible verse, or a Sunday School lesson, or a voice from your Mom, that strengthened your faithfulness during that temptation?

 

That is a benefit of accessing God’s very available and readily reliable Word in my life, in your life, in our life together.

 

This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, let’s trust even deeper in God’s Word!

If you heard God calling your name today, if you sense that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant for you today, if you want your life to withstand life’s storms today – drop a note in the Offering Plate, and I’ll get with you later this week. Let’s dedicate, rededicate, our rocky past into service as living stones today!

 

The B-I-B-L-E! Yes that’s the book for me.

I stand alone on the Word of God!

The B-I-B-L-E!

 

Happy Easter Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

 

Resources:

Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 32-39.

 

Calvin, John; Institutes of the Christian Religion IV:I Summation.

05/01/2016 – I Peter 2:4-8 – Living Stones: “Jesus Christ-the Chief Cornerstone”

For the audio of this message, please click here.

Mark Wheeler

I Peter 2:4-8

Living Stones: “The Cornerstone: Jesus Christ”

05/01/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Thus afternoon I am meeting with Michael Bushebi, and the Team going to Kenya, to talk about our trip this Summer to the Shim Children’s Center in Kiminini. One of the phrases that I hear popping up from people involved is that this ministry wants tokeep Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone of its mission”.

Right now there are some 47 children between the ages of less-than-2 and 18. Pastor Rodgers sort of inherited this situation of orphaned children who were literally sleeping on the mud and dung floor of their church. So with very few resources he started a ministry of finding foster families, and sponsors from places like America, to help with the caring and raising of these children. Unfortunately, as in any system where people are involved, some of the foster parents have simply taken a child or two so they would have more hands to work their fields or to fetch water from the well/river – and so the children have not been able to go to school or get their supplies.

Our trip this Summer is so that we can learn from the people on the ground of this mission how we can best partner with them – we believe it will involve helping to purchase property so they can build an actual facility to house these children and hire staff to care for them. But it is more than merely feeding and housing children. With Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone, there is a whole life-movement and eternity involved.

 

For most of the next several weeks I invite you to join me as we listen to the Apostle Peter, and hear some Biblical instruction that’s been around for nearly 2,000 years, and is based on totally true counsel, about “good masonry” with Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone of God’s Cathedral.

 

Peter, whom Jesus nick-named that because of his Rock-of-Gibraltar kind of faith statement when he was the first to say that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, uses the image of the Cornerstone as a metaphor to describe the primary position of Christ in relationship to God’s people.

 

Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. This comes from a letter he wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, south Turkey, to people who faced death daily. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when our Foundation is God Himself.

 

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,     a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
(Isaiah 28:16)

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected    has become the cornerstone,” (Psalm118:22)

and, “A stone that causes people to stumble     and a rock that makes them fall.” (Isaiah 8:14)

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

 

Essential to our understanding of church and mission is our belief that, in Jesus of Nazareth, God brought the cosmic, universal Church together with flesh and blood human beings. We become the Cathedral of God only when we lean into Jesus Christ the Cornerstone!

 

For those who have been involved in constructionI have, but only in a very elementary way, on a grammar school level – you know that the cornerstone is the architect’s point of reference for aligning the entire structure. The cornerstone determines which direction the building will face when it is completed.

In a similar way, a life built on Jesus Christ faces a certain direction, aligned as one loved and called on by God, and created to participate in His work here on earth.

Whether you are one whose faith has developed slowly over the course of your lifetime, born and raised in a Christ-following, church-attending, God-serving home where believing in Jesus has always been true – or someone who can name the exact minute when your faith became real, the exact moment when you “were saved”this Cornerstone reality is equally true! We must lean into the reality of Jesus giving us purpose and direction, as the Cornerstone of the Temple of God – or else He is a stumbling block on which we stub our toe, bruise our foot, and break our ankle – ultimately, trip into the flaming fire!

Is Christ your life’s Cornerstone? Whether it was a dramatic moment or a gradual shift, can you name how life was different before Christ became your Cornerstone? What kind of hope has emerged? Is there joy even in the midst of pain? Do you have a peace in your heart that surpasses the suffering you might experience?

This is Jesus Christ – the Cornerstone!

 

Think for a minute about some personal faith story you could share with a family member who is afraid right now, or with someone who is literally tripping over Jesus. Has He calmed a storm in your life? Has He secured your borders against the enemy’s encroachment?

 

Maybe you are not feeling securely grounded in your relationship with Jesus Christ right now. If that is true for you, take a quiet moment right now and ask Him to bring to mind those concrete ways He is anchoring you today – is there something that, perhaps, you have just failed to notice?

 

In Christ alone my hope is found; He is my light, my strength, my song;

This Cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest draught and storm.

What heights of love; what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease;

My Comforter, my all in all – here in the love of Christ I’ll stand.

…for every sin on Him was laid – here in the death of Christ I live.

… for I am His and He is mine – bought with the precious blood of Christ.

… till He returns or calls me Home – here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

 

Today we come to the Lord’s Table, we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior in the elements of bread and wine (Bethlehem, Ephratha); we recall His gift of love for us as He died on the cross (His body given for us, His blood poured out); and we anticipate His return (He will not drink from the fruit of the vice again until He sees us with Him in Paradise!)

 

That is our Cornerstone! Four months ago we celebrated His birth as we celebrated Christmas. 35 days ago we celebrated His death and resurrection with our Holy Week, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday celebrations. This Thursday, National Day of Prayer, is also Ascension Day when we commemorate Christ’s ascension, and two weeks from today is Pentecost when we party with Holy Spirit power filling us!

That is the Christian yearbuilt on the Cornerstone of Jesus Christ! Let’s “keep Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone of our mission”.

 

This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, let’s build our faith on Jesus Christ – the Cornerstone!

If you heard God calling your name today, if you sense that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant for you today, if you want your life to withstand life’s storms today – drop a note in the Offering Plate, and I’ll get with you later this week. Let’s dedicate, rededicate, our rocky past into service as living stones today!

 

Happy Easter Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

 

Resources:

Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 25-31.