11/22/2015 – Ephesians 4 – “Christ the King Sunday”

[There will be no audio attached this week – no power at the church, everything was very acoustic this morning.]

Mark Wheeler

Mark 12:28-30; Matthew 28:20; John 14:15-24; Romans 13:8-10; Ephesians 4

“10 Rules for Faithful Living: Is He King? Or Not?”

November 22, 2015 – Christ the King Sunday

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

We bow before You as our ultimate Ruler and Authority, dear Jesus. Thank You for the gift of the Ten Commandments, and Your simple and profound summary of them. Today, we listen again; and we promise again, to obey. Bend our ears to Your Word, and our wills to Your Commands, we pray in the name of our Lord and Savior. Amen. 

Ma and Pa made their annual visit to church for the Christmas Eve service.
As they were leaving, the minister said, “Pa, it sure would be nice to see you and ma here more than once a year!”
“I know,” replied Pa, “but at least we keep the Ten Commandments.”
“That’s great,” the minister said. “I’m glad to hear that you keep the Ten Commandments.”
“Yup,” Pa said proudly, “Ma keeps six of ’em and I keep the other four.”

 

Last week we finished our final lesson on the Ten Commandments, and today, Christ the King Sunday, we recommit ourselves to obedience.

 

The historical/social context of the 10 commandmentsescape from Pharaoh and unjust system of power and poverty

That’s not too different from our world – it is, but there are similarities. While we are not under the thumb of a dictator tyrant we do live in a culture that demands we give up some fundamental Christian life-choices, all in the name of more tolerance. We live in a world where the 1% rule over the 99%, without even realizing it. We live in a time where prejudice surrounds us, and even dwells inside us. We, too, need escape from the injustice of dishonor and death and infidelity and greed and slander and even the heart disease of being pained by dissatisfaction.

So God rescues us, as He rescued the Israelites, and He gives us what we have come to know as the Ten Commandments, what James called the Law of Liberty (James 1:25, KJV) and what Paul describes as living a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called (Ephesians 4:1, NIV).

The three reasons for the Law – 1) to show us we need a Savior,

2) to keep us from killing each other (restrain evil-doing),

3) to tell us what God’s character is (and therefore what our character ought to beguide for living the Christian life as we grow to resemble our Lord Jesus Christ)

 

The 10 Commandments, brief enough to be memorized by Sunday School children and comprehensive enough to guide our every thought and action. These Commandments are a far more than just a list of “thou shalt nots”, but it is a list of promises from God and they each contain the secret power to have the ability to obey them.

 

We all know that Jesus was asked, by people who perhaps hoped to trip Him up, which of the 10 Commandments was the greatest, most important one. Both Matthew and Mark record this story. What is Jesus’ answer? (Mark 12) “29 ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’Jesus is merely quoting from Deuteronomy.

And in the very next sentence Jesus says, “31 The second is this (in Matthew He says, “the second is just like it:”): ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

 

This first Commandment sets the tone and the pace for all the Commandments which follow. If we can remember that the Lord our God, Yahweh, the eternal, self-existent, uncreated One, Himself the Source and Sustainer of all that is – if we can remember that He alone is entitled to supreme reverence and worship – and that anything else that we might cherish lessens, weakens, our trust and relationship with Him – if we can remember that, then the next 9 Commandments become easy.

 

Because this week has been a hard week, for some of us a lonely, cold, dark, week. Let me just walk you through some Bible verses, then I will briefly share a quick discovery I had this week; then we’ll open the floor as we gather in prayer for anyone to share your insights, wonderings, etc. Then we’ll move into our Congregational Meeting.

While we do not have heat here, we do have each other. Some of you might need to get back home, and others might need to linger together. All of that will be possible.

 

Let’s do this together. What are the Ten Commandments?

  1. You shall have No OTHER godsanything other than God that we allow to take first place in our lives is out of order!
  2. You shall Make no IMAGESany image of God we make, any statue, any idea, any philosophy, will fall short
  3. Because the 3rd Commandment says to not use the Lord’s name in vain, we say: HOLY be Thy nameGod’s name assures us of His perfect presence and power, do not misuse that
  4. And we’ve interpreted the 4th Commandment about remembering the Sabbath Day and keeping it holy by saying: Take a Sabbath REST – the Hebrew people had lived under the iron fist of Pharaoh, God says that under His authority we are meant to find peace, rest, in His presence

Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God (love God above/before anything else), and our cares and concerns will be taken care of.” We are re-stating this every week because without our remembering it, even the next six commandments can be wrongly emphasized. If we do not love God first, we misunderstand how to love our neighbors rightly.

 

After we learn how to love God first, He says to love our neighbors. How do we love our neighbors?

  1. We Give HONOR until it’s deserved – starting with our parents
  2. We Respect LIFE – to the best of our ability – do not commit murder
  3. We are to be FAITHFUL in our marriages – and in every relationship – do not commit adultery
  4. We are to be GENEROUS so that “stealing” isn’t even a temptation for the poorest among us – no stealing
  5. We are to Speak HELPFULLY so that whatever we say has the chance of bringing blessingno giving false testimony
  6. And, we are to find CONTENTMENT whether we are empty-pocketed or overflowing with stuffno coveting

 

The very close of Matthew’s Gospel, after the resurrection, just before Jesus rises into the sky, into the heavens with His Father to sit on His throne as King of kings, in Matthew 28:20 Jesus tells us who follow Him, “18  ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [as King of kings]. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to OBEY everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

 

In John’s Gospel, in the scene just before the Lord’s Supper is instituted, Jesus gives this command to His followers: “If you love me, KEEP my commands.” (John 14:15) Whether or not we decide to obey reveals our decision to put no other gods before Him! If Christ truly is “King of all kings and Lord of all lords”, how do we tell Him that that is true? We keep His commands!

 

How do we tell that to the world around us? Paul says in Romans 13, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to LOVE one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law…. 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the LAW.

 

Here’s what I discovered this week – on Friday while at a cross-denominational prayer gathering, we read from Ephesians 4, just the opening verses, but then I read the whole chapter. This is Paul’s instructions to a Church in a very hostile environment and the whole chapter is about keeping the Ten Commandments, although he never uses those words. Listen to Ephesians 4:

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. …

 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live … separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

We might argue and debate over whether or not these Commandments belong in our Court Houses or classrooms – but there should be no argument that they belong right here, in our hearts and lives. Is Christ King of our lives? Or is He not?

If the Church ever turns our backs on the authority of these Commandments, may God have mercy on our souls. Let us worship the Lord our God, above and before all else, today and forever. Amen.

As we move into our time of prayerwhat do you want to share with us about what you have learned in this study of God’s Word in these Ten Commandments?

Resources:

The Law of Liberty; “The Law and the Gospel in Perfect Harmony”; Project Restore, Inc; Locust Dale, VA; 2006; Pp. 29-31.

11/15/2015 – Exodus 20:17 – “#10: Find Contentment”

Click on this link to get the audio version of this message: http://ppl.ug/B1EsAFAYgw0/

Mark Wheeler

Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21

“10 Rules for Faithful Living: #10 Find Contentment”

November 15, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

We come to worship today, O Lord, some of us filled with discontent, some with fear, some with anger, some with hurt feelings. But, dear Lord, we all came here today. Empty our hearts and minds of malice and bitterness right now. Help us instead, to seek Your perfect power and presence, Your righteousness and redemption, Your Law and Your love in front of all other possible priorities, through Your Son Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Two friends meet in the street. One looks sad and almost on the verge of tears. The other man says, “Hey my friend, how come you look like the whole world has caved in?

The sad fellow says, “Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, an uncle died and left me $50,000.”

“Well, I’m sorry for your loss, but that’s a nice unexpected income!”

“Hold on, I’m just getting started. Two weeks ago, a cousin I never knew kicked-the-bucket and left me $95,000.” 

“Wow, that’s great for you! I wouldn’t mind that.” 

“Last week, my grandfather I never met passed away. I inherited almost a million.”

“So why are so glum?” 

“This week – nothing!”

 

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to just be satisfied?

I recently read that, according to Rolling Stone magazine, the all-time number one song is Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. Now, the fact that the song and the Rock ’n’ Roll magazine have the same name puts a little suspicion on the recognition – still, who’s qualified to argue? The all-time number two song? Are you ready? The 1965 classic by the group called The Rolling Stones – “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”.

It does seem like that has been our cultural anthem for the last 50 years. USA Today reports that the majority of Americans in every age group feel like they have not really reached their fulfillment – we are not satisfied. And no satisfaction means no contentment!

In The Gospel according to Mark we read where Jesus said (Look at your Sermon Notes page…): (Mark 12) “29 ‘The most important Commandment is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’

And in the very next sentence Jesus says, “31 The second is this (in Matthew He says, “the second is just like it:”): ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

We have been in the 10 Commandments since early September….

Here’s a quick summary of the first four of the Big Ten, the ones about “loving God”:

  1. You shall have No OTHER godsanything other than God that we allow to take first place in our lives is out of order!
  2. You shall Make no IMAGESany image of God we make, any statue, any idea, any philosophy, will fall short
  3. Because the 3rd Commandment says to not use the Lord’s name in vain, we say: HOLY be Thy nameGod’s name assures us of His perfect presence and power, do not misuse that
  4. And we’ve interpreted the 4th Commandment about remembering the Sabbath Day and keeping it holy by saying: Take a Sabbath REST – the Hebrew people had lived under the iron fist of Pharaoh, God says that under His authority we are meant to find peace, rest, in His presence

Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God (love God above/before anything else), and our cares and concerns will be taken care of.” We are re-stating this every week because without our remembering it, even the next six commandments can be wrongly emphasized. If we do not love God first, we misunderstand how to love our neighbors rightly.

After we learn how to love God first, He says to love our neighbors. How do we love our neighbors?

  1. We Give HONOR until it’s deserved – starting with our parents
  2. We Respect LIFE – to the best of our ability
  3. We are to be FAITHFUL in our marriages – and in every relationship
  4. We are to be GENEROUS so that “stealing” isn’t even a temptation for the poorest among us
  5. We are to Speak HELPFULLY so that whatever we say has the chance of bringing blessing
  6. And …

Today we look at Commandment No. Ten. The NIV writes it like this: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” That’s the Exodus version of this 10th Commandment. Look at the second way it was stated, in Deuteronomy 5: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” It makes me wonder what was going on among these wandering Israelites that made Moses change the order and apparent more-common-object-of-desire the second time around. But either way, how do we love our neighbors? Do not covet what they have over what you have.

This 10th Commandment is truly about a “heart sin” and not just a behavior sin. “Do not covet” implies our dissatisfaction with our own lot in life and wishing we had it as good as that other guy. The sin really is about our unsatisfying hope for contentment. If only I had another $10,000 (or $100,000, or $1,000,000); if only I did not have this chronic disease (or that addiction, or those bad habits); if only I was married to him (or if my wife would do that, or my parents had given me this).

I am convinced that this is the easiest Commandment to see Jesus as the answer to – because, in fact, growing in Christ gives us what the world cannot give us – contentment, no matter our circumstance.

The Apostle Paul discovered this truth the hard way, but in Philippians 4:11-13 he wrote to those suffering Christians, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound … I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me.”

It’s all about that relationshiprelationship with God, through His Son, by means of the Holy Spirit. Even the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah knew that contentment, peace of mind, spirit-filled rest, happens in that relationship. Jeremiah, referring to King David’s words in Psalm 1 (about 400 years earlier), wrote in Jeremiah 17:7-8 “Blessed is the one who TRUSTS in the Lord … and is not anxious ….” Anxiety is the result of non-contentment.

Remember that Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, talked about murder and adultery and loving our neighbors – but Jesus made these Commandments about the deeper desires of our hearts and not just about our behaviors: “if you even hold a grudge against, if you even lust, you have committed murder and adultery in your heart; and I say love not only your neighbors but even your enemies.” Yes, the actions of sin are obviously wrong; but it all begins in the HEART! (Matthew 5:22, 28, 44)

In John’s Gospel Jesus made this image of being related to Him even deeper in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides, resides, dwells, lives in me, and I in him he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

It is impossible to have biblical contentment separated from God. “Apart from God we can do nothing”, but “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Abide in Christ and we discover contentment. We abide in Christ by living in His Word, by seeking Him in prayer, and by walking in obedience to His Commandments.

The Rolling Stones were correct: we are going to be discontent until we admit, “I can’t get no satisfaction!Exhausted we yield to Christ and say, “It is well with my soul – whatever my lot; it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

How do we love our neighbors? When we find Contentment, we discover the ability to love without prejudice.

Yes, we are still sinners, and we will still covet and envy what those around us seem to have; but we do not have to live in that pain. We can, as we remember how much we need a Savior, as we realize our depraved desire for that which is not ours to desire, as we recognize God’s character growing in us, ever so slowly, as people created in His image and who have been redeemed by His grace, we can find contentment and peace, even in the pain and suffering.

Do you need to believe this Good News today? Are you at a place where you are understanding this truth for the first time? Or even for the 100th time? It’s as simple as saying, “Thank You Jesus, I do believe. Help me, today, with where I don’t believe enough.

Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got;

and love your neighbor as yourselfgive honor until it’s deserved! Respect life! Be faithful! Give generously! Speak helpfully! Find contentment by abiding in Christ!

We can do this by acknowledging that God is with us, and nothing is impossible for God!

We have heard plenty of debates over whether these Commandments belong in our Court Houses or classrooms – but there should be no argument that they belong right here, in our hearts and lives and church.

If our Church ever turns our backs on the authority of these Commandments, may God have mercy on our souls. Let us worship the Lord our God, above and before all else, and let us love our neighbor as ourselves, today and forever.

Psalm 119:176 speaks our prayer: I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek Your servant, for I have not forgotten Your Commands. Amen.

Resources:

Table Talk; “Finding Contentment”; Melissa Kruger; Ligonier Ministries; Sanford, FL; December 2015; Pp. 16-19.

Table Talk; “Our New Affection”; Sinclair B. Ferguson; Ligonier Ministries; Sanford, FL; December 2015; Pp. 20-25.

The Law of Liberty; “Unfolding God’s Glorious Law”; Project Restore, Inc; Locust Dale, VA; 2006; Pp. 7-8.

07/05/2015 – Ruth 4:13-17 – “Full of Grace and Ruth”

Mark Wheeler

Ruth 4:13-17

“Full of Grace and Ruth”

July 5, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Remove, O Lord, any tension or anxiety, any stress or worry, anything, which may keep us from fulfilling Your wishes of who we could be. Fill us with the grace of the Father, the strength of the Son, and the hope of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

This past month has been one of those months when we realize how difficult following Jesus can be:

Hate-filled tragedy in Charleston, terrorist attacks, global financial instability (Greece), US Supreme Court decisions, legal and political posturing from candidates and government employees, at least 7 predominantly Black churches (from several denominations) burned to the ground in the last 10 days!, social media bombardment.

Many people outside the Church, and just as many inside the Church, feel discouraged, disheartened, and disoriented.

Some are feeling hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone.

Can anyone here relate to any of that?

You are not all on your own!

We are in a series which explores the depth and the height of God’s Grace – how it is more than we deserve and how it is greater than we can imagine. Our scripture today comes from the Old Testament story about a woman named Ruth. How many of you have read (or heard) this story before? This Old Testament story of Ruth is in the context of despair, depression and doom.

The story starts with the news of a severe famine in southern Israel, surrounding the town of Bethlehem, a little more than 1,000 years before Jesus was born. The famine was so severe that families were packing up and moving into neighboring, semi-enemy, countries, including Naomi and her husband and two sons. But once they got settled, Naomi’s husband died; and her two sons married women from this enemy territory, and then her two sons also died! Naomi was suddenly a widowed mother with no living children!

So she decides to go back home, traveling by herself, to be with relatives who knew her customs and religion. Talk about despair and depression and doom; hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone! Have you ever wondered if you might never escape the misery you were in? Darkness, fear, abandonment, estrangement … It is a terribly lonely experiencenobody, and it feels like no God!

But then this Old Testament story of Ruth also speaks of HOPE and GRACE.

One of her widowed daughters-in-law decides to go with her. Ruth was her name. She tells Naomi, “Your people will be my people (think how huge that would be – she left her own homeland and family to be with this strange mother-in-law and her extended family!), and your God will be my God (and this is even bigger than moving into a strange community – it’s a strange community and their stranger religion!).

So these two widowed women, unrelated except by marriage, move into town with no job, no family, no means of support, no children or grandchildren, no hope ….

And God provides a job, more food than they can eat, and the attention of a handsome, wealthy, land-owner, farm-manager who falls in love with Ruth and eventually wins her to himself. From the Jewish heritage in which they lived, his title was “kinsman redeemer”. He saved her, and her mother-in-law, from destitution, and he saved them for God’s plan of Redemption for humankind.

We read in Ruth 4:13-17 (almost the end of the book) where …. —-

13 … Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails.

Some of you will remember that way back in Genesis 12, God called Abram from the land of Ur and Promised him a new Land, and a Nation, and a people, and that one of his offspring would be a Savior for the world. And before that in Genesis 6, God promised a first salvation through Noah and that there would be a second salvation for God’s people. And before that in Genesis 3, God promised Adam and Eve that one of their offspring would crush the head of Satan and be a Savior for the people.

The story of this desperate foreigner woman named Ruth invites us into God’s perfect story of His perfect grace.

Almost without any regard for how valuable and important this information is, we are told, that “they named [their son] Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Who was David? Does anyone know? Yup, the second-greatest King Israel has ever had! Who was the first-greatest King? C’mon – someone say it: Jesus!

Are you ready for some hope and grace?

1,000 years after Ruth, her ultimate descendant is JESUS, the Savior who comes full of Grace and Truth.

John’s Gospel tells us this truth with poetic beautyJohn 1: (*read with breaks at the asterisks to explain some key points) “1In the beginning* was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God*. 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*…. 14The 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*…. 17For the law was given through Moses; Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ*!

I am going to close early this morning, because we are about to move into a time of prayer, where I know some of you are living with some sincere fears and worries, some anxieties about uncertainties, recovering from surgeries and preparing for treatments, and still hearing the national and local news reports about how people suffer at the hands of other people, by natural disaster, because of less-than-smart decisions – and some of those people are very close to our hearts.

We feel discouraged, disheartened, and disoriented; hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone.

But follow the story of Ruth. Her story leads directly to Grace and Hope – we can live lives full of Grace and Ruth – simply by trusting in the One who is the Way and the Truth and the LifeGod’s perfect propitiation and expiation for our sins and our struggles.

Right after the prayer and our offering, we will be invited to the Lord’s Table where we might just experience God’s gift of Grace and where we might receive ruth-ful Hope.

And may we never forget the challenge of Hebrews 12:15: “Let no one fall short of the grace of God.” Let’s pass God’s invitation on to our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates; let’s invite them to come into contact with the GRACE of God! Amen. 

“Dear God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Fellowship Community; 8134 New LaGrange Road; Suite 227; Louisville, KY; 40222; invite to Annual Conference in August 2015.

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 66-75.

06/14/2015 – Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – “Grace Pays Our Debt”

Mark Wheeler

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

“Grace Pays Our Debt”

June 14, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Remove, O Lord, any tension or anxiety, any stress or worry, which may keep us from fulfilling Your wishes of who we could be. Fill us with the grace of the Father, the strength of the Son, and the hope of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

For those of us who pay quarterly estimated taxes, due date is tomorrow. The June due date is only 2 months after the April due date, so it always sneaks up on me and I occasionally miss it. So when June 16 comes around it always reminds me of how Grace works.

Grace” and “taxes”? Yup. They always go together for me. Here’s why:

In the Spring of 1990, 6 months after my ordination, I was preparing to file my first Clergy Tax Returns – oh my goodness, I could not believe how complicated this is – Clergy file as self-employed employees of the church – yup, you heard right.

So we called a woman in our church who did taxes for a living – and asked for her help. What we learned was that I should have been filing these kinds of tax returns for the previous 3 years (I worked as a “Pastor’s Assistant” while in seminary). So, I owed some $4,000 – and we had $0 in our savings account!

This sweet tax preparer, Tamara, decided to not charge us for her work (she counted it as professional training, she become the firm’s clergy tax expert) – and then she paid our $4,000! Interest free!

Talk about Grace!

Have you ever received an unexpected, undeserved, gift of grace? Maybe not $4,000 worth, but something?More recently, I asked a friend who works in the auto industry for advice on some work on Caitlin’s car – he took the car for a few days and made almost every repair – for FREE! Grace? That’s a picture of grace! This Summer we are looking at different aspects of this theologically loaded word: Grace – more than we deserve, and greater than we imagine. Listen to today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah 52 & 53…. —-

52 13 See, my servant will act wisely;    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,     and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,    and what they have not heard, they will understand.

53 1 Who has believed our message    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain    and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,  stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,    so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;    for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,    nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;

by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,    and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,    and made intercession for the transgressors.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails.

 

This passage of Isaiah was written some 600 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem – but is there any confusion among us whom God had in mind when Isaiah wrote this?

God’s plan of having His own Son, Jesus, become a human, and suffer and die on behalf of sinners like you and me, was no after-thought; this was no last-ditch effort to try to save humankind; this had been God’s plan since the beginning. Check out Genesis 3 where God talks about the offspring of Eve crushing the head of Satan, and in Genesis 12 where God promises Abraham that his offspring will be a Savior for all the world. Both Eve’s and Abraham’s salvific offspring is Jesus! Isaiah reminds the Israelites of this truth 600 years before this Savior is born.

On Good Friday, Pontius Pilate reminded the crowd that it was their custom to release one prisoner for the Passover holiday. He offered the crowd a choice: JESUS (against whom Pilate could find no criminal offense) or BARABBAS (who was a convicted murderous rebel).

Most of you know this story. Which of these men died for the other?

Pilate tried some 4 different times to get the crowd to let Jesus off the hook. Pilate said, in so many words, “I see no reason for Jesus to be condemned. He has done nothing deserving crucifixion.” He pled a lesser punishment – “How ‘bout a severe whipping?Nope, not good enough. Finally, Pilatewashed his hands” and sent Jesus back to the local magistrate, Herod.

It seems that Paul later says plainly what Pilate was thinking: “God made Him who had no SIN [Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in Him WE might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21)

That is Grace! Jesus Christ, who was sinless – not that He was unable to sin, remember the temptations in the wilderness; but that He refused to sin – took on our sin, experienced the painful effects of my sin, extreme separation from His own Father, remember His “Why have You forsaken me?”. Isaiah says, “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him!

That is Grace!

600 years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah knew who deserved what. Look at verse 6 on your Sermon Notes page: “We ALL, like sheep, have gone ASTRAY.” He goes on and says, “Each of us has turned to our own way.

And friends, we know that our ways are not God’s ways. In John’s Gospel Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth and the life – and no one comes to the Father except through/by me.

“We ALL, like sheep, have gone ASTRAY. Each of us has turned to our own way. … and the Lord has laid on Him (who is the “Him”?), and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all!

That is Grace! Say it with me, “That is Grace!” How have you “gone astray”? Is there a habit that is not God-honoring? Is there a choice you know is wrong? How about an attitude – of superiority, or disgruntledness, or worry, or pride?

How has our church “gone astray”? Are we as faithful in reaching beyond our doors as we should be? Do we feed the hungry like we might? Are there some kinds of people we just “don’t want around here”? Have we ignored God’s clear teaching and done our own thing?

How has our church “gone astray”?  

What does Isaiah 53 say Jesus did for us? Does it not say, The Grace of Jesus paid off our debt of sin?! He paid it all! We are completely free to follow Him well and serve Him wholly!

That is Grace!

Who is someone in your life who does not deserve Grace? Seriously, who deserves retribution? Who deserves their comeuppance? Who deserves to be smacked, or at least shelved? Got that face in mind? (Why is everyone looking at me?)

Now, how will you show that person God’s Grace?

Hebrews 12:15 gives us the clear challenge to “let no one fall short of the GRACE of God.” How will you do this this week?

That, my friend, is Grace! 

“Dear God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 31-37.

05/24/2015 – Matthew 16:23-25; Romans 12:1-2 – Following Jesus Today: “The Transforming Power of Love”

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 16:23-25; Romans 12:1-2

“Following Jesus Today: The Transforming Power of Love”

May 24, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

You are our refuge and our strength, O Lord. We pour our lives into Your hands that we may discover all the benefits of Your grace and all the power of Your presence. Amen.

Let’s see a show of hands of anybody here who remembers having prayers said in school. Did any of you have class field-trips to a local church? Who remembers when students could lead prayer at a baccalaureate ceremony?

All of that has changed, hasn’t it?

Six weeks ago we started a sermon series right after Easter called “Following Jesus Today”. We started this series recognizing that the America some of us grew up in seems to have changed. There was a time, not too many decades ago, when “going to church” was sort of the normal, expected Sunday experience. Our culture and society sort of revolved around church schedules: no youth sports of Sundays, no after school activities on Wednesdays (that was church youth group day), Spring Break coincided with Holy Week, etc.

60 years ago when Spokane’s population was half what it is today, church attendance was three-times what it is today. But something shifted – for better or for worse, that’s not the way it is anymore. The Church has become irrelevant to the felt-needs of the people around us; and as a result our pews are emptier and our resources are fewer. Our influence has waned, our authority has dissipated, and our presence is ignored. So, during these weeks between Easter and Pentecost, we have been looking at how to Follow Jesus Today. We have examined how our words and actions impact the world around us, how we experience both the absence of God and the embrace of God in our daily walk with Him (and how to invite others to experience God’s perfect grace), what it means to love God and to love our neighbors, how to know Truth from falsehood, and the importance of displaying our faith in forms our neighbors can recognize as ways we actually are following Jesus. 

Today we look at two different Scripture passages that appear to be completely unrelated; but I invite you to listen to the Word of God and discover the direct connection. Let’s hear God’s Word from Matthew 16:23-25…. and then from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 12:1-2 ….—-

Matthew 16: 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (This happened immediately after Peter had made his out-loud faith declaration that Jesus is the one and only Messiah, the Son of the living God – and then Jesus told His disciples that He would go to Jerusalem where He would suffer and be killed, and Peter rebuked Jesus and said that that could never happen!)

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

And from Romans 12: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. So, realizing that we live in one of the least-churched states of our nation, where fewer than 15% (the last poll I read [from 2002] said 17%, but church stats across our city indicate that it is lower today) fewer than 15% of Spokane is in a Christian worship service on any given weekend, what are we supposed to do?One model, and this has been in place for most of the 20th Century and continues into this 21st Century, is to try our very best to make our church more attractive than the church down the street and even more attractive than some of the other options our culture and society offers. So we build church buildings and develop programs that compete with society around us.

An “Attractional” Church tries to ATTRACT people to its building and programs, and to Christ. This model has worked for many churches – the churches with the resources to do it well – Life Center, Real Life, ONE, and in its day Calvary Chapel – have reached people for Jesus and grown! But even these churches confess to only reaching certain segments of society, and while they go out a mile wide, they often only go an inch deep.

There is nothing wrong with being attractional; being attractive is almost everyone’s goal. Admittedly, there are days when I look in the mirror and say, “Sorry world, this is as good as this is gonna get today”; but most days I at least brush my teeth and comb my hair. My resources can only make me SO attractive, but I usually try to be less unattractive than when my feet first hit the floor in the morning.

But I often wonder if this is just the worldly way of reaching people for Christ. Let’s look better, and see if we can win them to our side.God’s ways are different than our ways. Is this “suffering” that we encounter – this lower attendance in worship – because we have been lax in our efforts? Or is this part of God’s work to strengthen our faith and our fellowship? Or is there some third way to see this? 

Since the mid-1980s, this “attractional” mode of church growth has started to fail. It still works at one level – something like 75% of all American Church-goers attend Mega-churches, but something like 80% of those people have little more to their Christian faith than attending church services. The divorce rate, cheat-on-your-taxes rate, and relative-morality rate is the same as those who do not go to church at all.

And churches like ours try to be attractive – but we just do not have the resources to compete with the world around us – we can’t do better childcare, we can’t bring in big-name speakers or performers, we can’t even afford building upgrades so that we look like we’re leading the 21st Century.

Fortunately, God wants our best, and He gives us everything we need to offer it. One of the main American Church dilemmas is that we have tried to attract new people without making lasting connections with the people around us. In the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s – all you had to do was build a church and people would flock to it. That is no longer true!

“Attraction” without “connection” will not bear the fruit we hope to grow.

In this 21st Century, because we are no longer the center of all civic activities, we need to put more emphasis in being a “Connectional” Church – one that tries to CONNECT to the people in our neighborhoods, and CONNECT them to Christ.

Why is it so difficult for followers of Jesus, you and I, to focus on the things of God as compared to earthly things? It is part of our fallen nature. Adultery, murder, theft, lying, envy are all in the Big Ten Commandments because, by nature, we want what makes us look better to others and feel more worthy to ourselves – sparkly, jingly, shiny, loud stuff draws attention to us. The world seems to have drawn us into its deceptive stories of false values.

I want the bigger, badder, louder, motorbike. I also want the bigger truck, without dents and rust and leaks, and that I know will start every time I turn the ignition. But, is that the right thing to want?

Paul says to not be conformed to the world, butbe TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your mind”.

Today is Pentecost Sunday – this is the day we celebrate God’s Holy Spirit filling each of Jesus’ followers – the first time was 50 days after the Passover celebration in the year that Jesus was crucified, killed and buried – but that Pentecost was not a one-time event. Pentecost (the name merely refers to those 50 days, on the Jewish calendar it was 50 days after Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea that God gave him the 10 Commandments), reminds us that the Holy Spirit of God fills each and every one of God’s children when we receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, when we are baptized – but it also reminds us that God always desires a deeper connection with His people. He wants to live in us, and empower us with His Gospel Truth.

To be TRANSFORMED by the renewing of our minds means to repent from whatever drags us away from our connection to God and to allow the Holy Spirit to take command.

What that looks like in your personal life will probably be different from what it looks like in my personal life – my sins may not be your sins.But before we’re done today, we will ask for a refilling of Holy SpiritI wonder what being “TRANSFORMED by the renewing of our collective minds” might look like in the life of LPC. Would we figure out new experiments to CONNECT with our neighbors? Would we be more deeply CONNECTED to each other? What would the world around us see and how would that ATTRACT them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

In just a few minutes we are going to pray and then receive the offering for God’s Kingdom connections. Let me invite you to rip off a piece of your bulletin – I expect to hear a holy tear – and write down one concrete way LPC might demonstrate the Kingdom of God in northeast Spokane this year – you can then put your ripped-off ideas in the offering plates along with your tithes to God’s purposes.

Let’s pray:“O God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room, again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 36-43.

04/26/2015 – Matthew 22:34-40 – Following Jesus Today: “Worshiping God by Walking Backwards”

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 22:34-40

“Following Jesus Today: Worshiping God by Walking Backwards”

April 26, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

You are our refuge and our strength, O Lord. We pour our lives into Your hands that we may discover all the benefits of Your grace and all the power of Your presence. Amen.

Two years ago last Monday, Velma and Linda and Jeanette and I, along with 16 others from across the country stepped off a boat and entered into the ancient city of Ephesus. We met our local tour guide who introduced herself and then led the 20 of us along a 2-mile 2,000+-year old marble road and told us about the ruins of huge old stone buildings including the third largest library of the ancient world, the theater from which Paul spoke to the crowds, and the jail where Paul was imprisoned. But here’s the thing, this tour guide did this while walking backwards.

She knew the pot holes and divots, she understood the turns and the angles, she recognized when to stop and where to point – without really having to look where she was going.

How was that possible? She knew the landscape so well because she had walked this road and studied its route so many times, it was all second nature.

During these weeks between Easter and Pentecost we are learning how to Follow Jesus Today. We have examined how our words and actions impact the world around us and how we experience both the absence of God and the embrace of God in our daily walk with Him (and how to invite others to experience God’s perfect grace).Today we will listen as Jesus answers a question we all ask in one way or another, Matthew 22:34-40 …. —-

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

37 Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. The questions we usually ask go something like: So … this particular sin isn’t as bad as that one, so …, it’s OK, right? The way I convince myself that my sin really isn’t so bad is by asking if enjoying someone’s good cooking is better than wasting the food, right? So I overeat like the glutton I am…. One of the Pharisees, one who was an expert in the Old Testament Law (all the Pharisees were experts in the Old Testament – so this one must have been some kind of super-Pharisee in order to get this kind of acclaim), tried to trick Jesus into coming up with some lame, inappropriate answer to the 10 Commandments question.But Jesus answers the question about which commandment is the most important by quoting from the same Old Testament Law of which this Pharisee was such an expert. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”This comes right after the 10 Commandments were listed in Deuteronomy 5, and then Moses summarizes them in this short verse, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind/strength.” “Love the Lord your God….” In English, the word “love” has so many connotations it’s hard to know what Jesus may have meant. Fortunately, we can go to the original Greek language and get a better picture of Jesus’ words. In English I can say that I love the Spokane Indians (baseball team), and I love cherry cheese cake, and I love Jennifer – but each of those loves better have at least slightly different meanings.I love the Spokane Indians in a way that makes me wish I could attend more games in their short season; I love cherry cheese cake in a way that, if given the choice, I would choose a slice of that over a cupcake any day of the week; but I love Jennifer in a way that means I will always choose her as my life partner no matter how may Spokane Indians, cherry cheese cakes, or other people cross into my line of vision. In Greek there are a number of words one could use that translate into English as “love”. Jesus uses a word with unique meaning and purpose. He uses a form of the word “agape”. This kind of love is completely selfless, utterly altruistic, entirely and totally self-giving!Agape-love is a kind of love humans can’t really do. Even the most caring, gentle, generous person among us has self-centered moments where we want what is best for good old number one. Nonetheless, that is, apparently, the greatest commandment: Agape-love the Lord your God with … everything you have. This is the kind of love that we might put on a par with worshiplove God equals worship Godrecognize God’s worth, and give Him what that worth deserves. What is God’s worth? [Absolute ultimate value] How do we pay for that value? [by giving Him absolutely everything we have to giveheart, soul, strength/mind]!And for New Testament followers of Jesus, worshiping God, loving God, always happens through His Son Jesus Christ. And because we are, actually, unable to offer agape-love under our own power, we love and worship God in spirit and in truth only under the power of the Holy Spirit.So, ,,, do you pass this “greatest commandment” test? Yeah, neither do I. Thank God for His perfect grace!

But Jesus does not stop with the simple quote from Deuteronomy – He also quotes from Leviticus 19:18; in the middle of a whole list of “laws” (one “thou shalt not” after the next “thou shalt not”) the writer of Leviticus writes, “but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God …. And the second greatest commandment is just like it: love your neighbor as yourself!

Agape-love your neighbor as yourself?! Wow! Really? God, do you know my neighbor? Agape-love him? I can barely stand him!

Yes, Jesus says, Agape-love your neighbor!

How does one do that?

Remember the story of the tour guide I told you at the beginning of this message? Here’s where that story fits in – and how we apply the same thing to our Christian lives of following Jesus today.

A thorough perusal of our Holy Scriptures shows us over and over again how God’s greatest desire is for a transformative relationship with us, His greatest piece of creation. When we begin to understand that the Creator of everything loves us without/beyond any conditions, our only reasonable response is an overwhelming desire to love and serve God! And as that becomes our reality, we begin to care more and more about the things that matter most to Godloving and serving our neighbors!

So the “greatest commandmentflows straight into the “second (which) is just like it”. When we love God, we will love our neighbors. I John 3:11-16 reminds us that “the message we have heard from the beginning (is that) we should love one another … this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. We ought, therefore, to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (we ought to love each other.)

God-honoring love and worship will compel us, and our experience of God’s love will enable us, to actually invest in loving our neighbors.

Our tour guide walked backwards because she knew Ephesus, and she wanted to share Ephesus with her tourists!

Here’s the take-away lesson for usGenuine, God-honoring love and worship happens when you and I, followers of Jesus, have experienced God’s love and the transformation it brings (even in small doses), and we begin to walk backwards, sharing what we have with our tourists, pointing out God’s creation, directing attention to God’s mighty acts, and simply showing people something of God’s grace in our own lives. THAT is loving our neighbors.

Know the power and love of God, and

Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, compelling us to

Go in the footsteps of the Holy Spirit, loving and servng others who do not yet

Know the power and love of God….*

The people around us desperately need to see these kinds of followers of Jesus.

Worshiping God by walking backwards involves loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, by living our faith out-loud so that others might see God as we walk backwards showing Him to our neighbors.

 

Name one person with whom you are currently “walking backwards” – and name someone with whom you will start this week.

 

Teach us to love as Your angels love,

one holy passion filling every frame;

the baptism of the heaven-descended Dove,

our hearts an altar, and Your love the flame. (Amen) – George Croly, 1854

Resources:

Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 19-24.

*Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church Vision Statement, 2006.

04/19/2015 – Isaiah 45:15; Luke 15 – “Following Jesus Today: Deus Absconditus and the Embrace of God”

Mark Wheeler

Isaiah 45:15; Luke 15

“Following Jesus Today: Deus Absconditus and the Embrace of God”

April 19, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

You are our refuge and our strength, O Lord. We pour our lives into Your hands that we may discover all the benefits of Your grace and all the power of Your presence. Amen.

Last summer a couple of wind-storms blew through Spokane with tree-toppling force! Winds and gales crushing cars and houses and churches and businesses. The Riverside Community, just north of Spokane, looked like a war-zone with mobile homes completely demolished and hundreds of people left without shelter or power or protection.

Or so they thought. Did any of you drive through Riverside, maybe on your way to Priest Lake or Sandpoint or Camp Spalding? You know what the world discovered after that storm? People from every background, from a variety of religious and faith systems (and from NO faith system) stood by each other and helped each other and fed each other and struggled together to rebuild their community.

And churches and mission agencies stepped right in with food and clothes and supplies to help.

In an interview, one shirtless, tattooed, rough-looking man said something about how “no one could articulate what they had experienced – but something spiritual took place”.

It makes me wonder how this eclectic collection of atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Mormons and Christians, together, in this very unchurch-like setting, could experience what we in the Church so much long for? Where is God in our every day lives? Now, I certainly know that several people in this room have daily God-moments, but there are also seasons in everyone’s life where we just do not seem to have any empirical evidence of God’s existence. And we wonder why. (Can anyone give me an “Amen” here?) The Old Testament prophet Isaiah (43:18-19) counseled the struggling Israelites with these words:“Do not remember the former things, or even consider the things of old. [God says,] I am about to do a brand new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.Will God again do a brand new thing in our presence? Will we experience His Spirit in ways “no one can articulate”?Two chapters later Isaiah writes, in 45:15….—-“Truly, You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” I love that one-sentence confession and conundrum. Isaiah confesses that God is God, that God is Savior – and in the same breath he questions God’s priorities (where are You? Why are You hiding?)! It’s a tension many of us live in every day. Why are there times when God seems so absent from our lives and even from our churches? In theological circles this is called “Deus absconditus” (the hiddenness of God).Church history has taught us that we cannot effectively fix this sense of God’s absence by trying harder – not even by our own diligent efforts to read the Bible more devotedly, to serve the hungry, to clothe the naked, or to visit the shut-in more dutifully.Martin Luther, in the 16th Century, said that this distance was not caused by our lack of knowledge or ethics, but rather it was due to a “relational estrangement. We needed a deeper relationship with God.It’s really all about our desire to invest time with Him! Yes, to read His Bible and to serve the hungry, and clothe the naked – but not out of obligation or duty, but out of love for Him!It’s a matter of gaining insight into God’s heart and what matters to God. It is seeing where God is already at work in the world around us, and asking how we can join in!In what ways have you personally experienced Deus absconditus (God hiding Himself)?Pastor Randy Lovejoy (Silverlake Community Church, Los Angeles) suggests that, maybe we’ll discover that we are looking for God in all the wrong places! We expect God to be inescapably evident in the lives of our churches and in the lives of churched people – but we sometimes walk away wondering if God even exists.The religious people of Jesus’ day expected the same thing – and they missed the “brand new thingGod was doing through the person and work of Jesus Christ.Let’s take a look at this most well-known chapter from Luke’s GospelLuke 15….—-

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were looking for God in their structures and institutions, but God was “hidingamong the tax collectors and sinners. Where might God be “hiding” in Spokane in 2015?

The rest of Luke 15 is a series of parables where Jesus teaches about how God finds us and how we experience the opposite of Deus absconditus.

There’s the parable of the lost sheep, and the story of the shepherd risking everything to find this one sheep who wandered off – and when he finds it he throws a party, “‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Then there’s the parable of the woman who has lost her coin, and after spending every moment of her day she finds this one coin which has somehow just fallen through the cracks – and she throws a … party, “‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

Then we come to the most famous parable, maybe of all time, the parable of the prodigal son – these are really all parables of the lost being found – lost sheep, lost coin, and two lost sons. But this parable is different.

We all know about how the younger Son gets lost looking for somethingGod? And the father does not go running after him, (Deus absconditus?). This son walks away from his father, living a life of casual carousing and merrymaking (I think he’s looking for “meaning”). He finally goes home and his fatherthrows . a . party.

But there’s another son, an elder son, who has stayed at home, and also experienced Deus absconditus. He did his duty for his father, but had no real relationship with him. And, interestingly, the Greek description of this brother is “Delphos presbuteros” (Presbyterian brother – does he describe us? Do we do our duty, but without a living, loving relationship with God?).

Back to the younger brother, when he comes home we read: “20 …“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him….

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate….

The climax of this parable, and really of the whole chapter, is in verse 20: “the father ran and put his arms around him and kissed him!” In His life and in His parables, Jesus revealed the heart of God.

The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin illustrate a costly search for something missing – something of great value! And when the search ends successfully, there is a celebration!

God draws people into relationship through Jesus Christ! The surprise here is that the shepherd and the woman invested so much of themselves focusing on what was “outside” rather than what was “inside. Of course God wants us “inHis Church – but it looks like He still focuses, and maybe wants us to focus, on what’s “out there!” That may surprise us, who think we know the heart of God – but think how much more it surprises those people who believe they are somehow beyond the reach of God’s perfect love! The Embrace of Godwow!

In what ways have you experienced the embrace of God (Luke 15:20)?

That’s what happened in Riverside last Summer! They experienced the Embrace of God! People in that small community experienced something no one expected – and it was beyond their ability to articulate! And since then, I am told, several individuals have been attending some of the churches that reached out to them – and they are still experiencing the Embrace of God!

 

Ready for a simple surprise? Part of the Moving back into the Neighborhood experiments we are about to embark on include the potential for stumbling into the Embrace of God. As the weather warms and the sun shines, our “experiments in God doing something new” might involve simply inviting our neighbors to help – to help with serving the hungry and clothing the naked, help in mowing our lawn and weeding their garden, help in … being good neighbors.

And I’ll bet, God will … throw . a . party! Let the celebrations begin! With whom might you share God’s embrace this week?

Father, Your love washes over us into the lives of those we do not yet even know. Grant us the courage to follow that love into Your wonder, mystery, and awe so that in places unfamiliar, with people we have only just begun to know, we might share the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God. To Your glory and honor, Amen.

Resources:

Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 13-18.