08/02/2015 – Ephesians 1:3-14 – “Chozen: Let It Go”

Mark Wheeler

Ephesians 1:3-14

“Chozen: Let It Go”

August 2, 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. 

Does anybody here like to read Max Lucado books? If you’ve never read him before, I’m going to give you a taste today. Straight up, I am confessing a little plagiarism (except that I’m crediting him, so it’s not really plagiarism at all).

Between 1854 and 1929 about 200,000 orphans and abandoned children in eastern cities were placed on westbound trains and shipped across the US in search of homes and families. Many of the children had lost their parents in epidemics. Others were children of down-on-their-luck immigrants. Some were orphaned by the Civil War, others by alcohol.

But they all needed homes. Loaded on trains in groups of 30-40, they stopped in rural areas for viewings. The children were lined up on the platform like livestock at an auction. Potential parents asked questions, evaluated health, and even examined teeth. If selected, the children went to their homes. If not, they got back on the train.

The Orphan Train.

Lee Nailling remembers the experience. He had been living at the Jefferson County Orphan Home for 2 years when he, as an 8-year-old, was taken with his two younger brothers to a train in NYC. The day before, his biological father had handed him a pink envelope that bore his father’s name and address. He told the boy to write him as soon as he reached his destination. The boy placed the envelope within a coat pocket so no one would take it. The train embarked for TX. Lee and his brothers fell asleep. When he awoke, the pink envelope was gone. …

What I’d like to tell you is that Lee’s father found him. That the man, unwilling to pass another second without his sons, sold every possession so he could reunite his family. I’d love to describe the moment when Lee heard his father say, “Son, it’s me! I came for you!” Lee Nailling’s biography, however, contains no such event.

But yours does.

We have been investing this Summer in an extended sermon series on God’s amazing Grace – how it is so far more than we deserve, and so far greater what we imagine. Listen with me to God’s Word, from the New Testament epistle from Paul to the Church in Ephesus, 1:3-13. This follows immediately after the intro, and jumps straight into a word on God’s perfect sustaining Grace. Hear the Word of the Lord: Ephesians 1:3-14 …. —-

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. In his chapter called Chosen Children, from his book on Grace, Lucado reminds us: “There is something in you that God loves. You cause His eyes to widen, His heart to beat faster. He loves you. And He accepts you.”

Did you hear God’s Word to you in this Ephesian letter? Turn to your Sermon Notes page and read verses 3-5 out loud with me: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.

First, let’s recognize that this letter is from the Apostle Paul! This is no Joe Schmuck from the “Happy Acres Preschool”. This is the Apostle Paul! He says, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us. We give praise to God because He has already blessed us – not just a word of encouragement to “you”, but Paul includes himself! “Our Lord … has blessed us!”

How did He bless us? Verse 4: He chose us in Him before the creation of the world …. Now, let me ask you a question: in what year were you born? (You don’t have to say it out loud – but imagine that number in big bold numerals.) I was born in 1961! Some of you were born in the 1990s, some of you in the 1910s. that’s getting to be a long time ago, right? When did God choose you? Before the creation of the world!

Verse 5 says, He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ. You heard your own voice read that out loud a minute ago!

God chose us before Genesis 1He predestined us for adoption to sonship. What did we have to do to earn that choice? What did we have to accomplish for God to adopt us? Thousands of earth-years before we were born – we were already chosen, already ear-marked for adoption!

When does an orphan become not-an-orphan? When that orphan is adopted, chosen, received into the family inheritance!

Max Lucado says, “All of grace, I believe, is God’s definitive reply: ‘Be blessed, my child. I accept you. I have adopted you into my family’.” Adopted children are chosen children.

That is not the case with biological children. When the doctor handed Mark Wheeler to Russell Wheeler, my dad had no exit option. No loophole. No choice. He couldn’t give me back to the doctor and ask for a better-looking or smarter son. The hospital made him take me home. (That’s my spin on Lucado’s illustration. – but even with biological children, parents choose to either love their children or leave their children in someone else’s hands – sometimes the way one loves best is to leave them to be cared for by another.)

But if you were adopted, your parents chose you. Surprise pregnancies happen. But surprise adoptions? Never heard of one. [Your parents] selected you. They wanted you in their family.

You object: ‘Oh, but if they could have seen the rest of my life, they might have changed their minds.’ Max Lucado says, “My point exactly.

God saw our entire lives from beginning to end, birth to hearse, and in spite of what He saw, He was still convincedto adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave Him great pleasure.” (Eph 1:5 NLT)

Verse 11 says it again, “In [Christ] we were CHOSENSecurenever to be lost again. God chose us. God chooses you! All we need to do is accept that offer of adoption. Do you want to know God’s adoptive grace in your life? It is right there waiting for you!

Remember that 8-year-old orphan who lost his father’s letter? Things got worse before they got better. He and his two brothers were taken to several towns. On the 6th day someone in a small TX town adopted one brother. Then a family selected Lee and his other brother. But soon Lee was sent to another home, the home of a farming family, but he had never been on a farm. The city boy didn’t know not to open the doors of the chick’s cages. When Lee did, the angry farmer sent him away.

In a succession of sad events, Lee had lost his father, had ridden a train from NY to TX, had been separated from his two brothers, and had been kicked out of two homes. His little heart was about to break. Finally he was taken to the home of a tall man and a short, plump woman. During the 1st supper Lee said nothing. He went to bed making plans to run away. The next morning they seated him at a breakfast of biscuits and gravy. When he reached for one, well, Lucado says, I’ll let him tell you what happened.

 

Mrs. Nailling stopped me. ‘Not until we’ve said grace,’ she explained. I watched as they bowed their heads. Mrs. Nailling began speaking softly to ‘our Father,’ thanking Him for the food and the beautiful day. I knew enough about God to know that the woman’s ‘our Father’ was the same one who was in the ‘our Father who art in heaven’ prayer that visiting preachers had recited over us at the orphanage. But I couldn’t understand why she was talking to Him as though He were sitting here with us waiting for His share of the biscuits. I began to squirm in my chair.

Then Mrs. Nailing thanked God ‘for the privilege of raising a son.’ I stared as she began to smile. She was calling me a privilege. And Mr. Nailling must have agreed with her, because he was beginning to smile too. For the 1st time since I’d boarded the train I began to relax. A strange warm feeling began to fill my aloneness and I looked at the empty chair next to me. Maybe, in some mysterious way, ‘our Father’ was seated there, and was listening to the next softly spoken words. ‘Help us make the right choices as we guide him, and help him make the right choices too.’ …

After breakfast, as they walked me to the barbershop for a haircut, we stopped at each of the 6 houses on the way. Each time, the Naillings introduced me as ‘our new son.’ …

 

Our identity is not in our possessions, our talents, our tattoos, our kudos, or our accomplishments. Nor are we defined by our divorce, our deficiencies, our debt, or our dumb choices.

You are God’s child. You get to call Himour Father”.

Lucado writes, “Rather than conjure up reasons to feel good about yourself, trust God’s verdict. If God loves you, you must be worth loving. If He wants to have you in His Kingdom, then you must be worth having. God’s grace invites you–no, requires you–to change your attitude about yourself and take sides with God….”

How many of you have seen the 2013 instant Disney classic movie, “Frozen” (inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen”, the film tells the story of a fearless Princess Anna who sets off on an epic journey alongside a rugged iceman, his loyal pet reindeer, and a naïve snowman to find her estranged sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, whose icy powers have inadvertently trapped the kingdom in eternal winter)?

The theme song, “Let It Go” closes with these words:

one thought crystallizes like an icy blast        I’m never going back,          The past is in the past!

Let it go, let it go                   And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go                   That perfect girl is gone!

Here I stand       In the light of day       Let the storm rage on, The cold never bothered me anyway!

 

Like Elsa, we can sing those words – the past is in the pastlet it go, let it go – and I’ll rise like the break of dawnlet it go, let it go – that perfect girl is gone!

We do not need to be that perfect girl – or boy. God has Chozen you. His Grace is sufficient! Yes, our response ought to be to accept His love and live according to His standards – but His love cannot be earned by our good behavior.

We have been Chosen! He adopts us into His inheritance. We are His, and nothing can/will ever change that.

To live as God’s chosen child is to know, at this very instant, that we are loved by our Maker not because we try to please Him and succeed, or fail to please Him and apologize, but simply because He wants to be our Father.

The adoption is irreversible. You have a place at His Table of perfect 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:

Disney Movies; Frozen; 2013.

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 117-125.

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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.

Second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 40:1-11 – “Comfort! Comfort!”

Mark Wheeler
Advent 2, December 7, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Isaiah 40:1-11
“Comfort! Comfort!”

We are seeking inner-strength, dear God. Fill us with courage and steadiness. Conquer our fears and hurts. Comfort us with Your Holy Spirit, that we might recognize Your strength in our weakness. Amen.

Today is the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Our theme for this season, as followers of Jesus Christ, is recognizing that in the Christmas event we celebrate that Jesus was born, God was made incarnate, for us and for our salvation!
From the time I was very young, I have always looked forward to the days leading up to Christmas – to be honest, what I looked forward to was Christmas morning – but the days leading up to it helped build the suspense and anticipation. When I was a teenager I was introduced to George Frederic Handel’s “The Messiah”, and every time I hear it I wait for the Christmas portion of the oratorio and the sweet tenor voice singing from Isaiah 40: “Comfort ye. Comfort ye my people.”
What I really love is how the music brings Scripture to life and helps us understand that the promises of God, fulfilled in Jesus, ultimately change everything about our world.
Next week’s sing-along Christmas Cantata that our choir is leading will do that for us all!
I think we need to be reminded again and again of God’s unshakable commitments to claim this squirrely, fallen world and, ultimately make it right in ways we can’t possibly anticipate. On the surface, our Spokanite lives in 2014 are vastly different from the Jewish exiles who first heard these words. Contemporary North Americans are the first people in the history of the world to be surprised that we might have to suffer. We think we should be able to make things happen. We get antsy when we have to wait for anything. We want clear plans, quick fixes, and assurances that “somebody” in charge knows what they’re doing.
And yet, when we’re honest, we know that we are as terrified of the future as any generation before us. We are contemporary exiles in our own land—living lives impacted as much by the culture that surrounds us as our counterparts 25 centuries ago. And so, these words find resonance deep within our souls. We too need comfort. We too need assurance that God will make all things right in His time and in His way.

Paul Detterman, a Presbyterian Pastor on the team leading the charge for a movement called The Fellowship Community (Fellowship of Presbyterians) – a movement of Presbyterians who claim the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God, that faith in Jesus as God’s only begotten Son is our only means to salvation, and that our lives and lifestyle choices should reflect that belief (this is a man I deeply respect and admire) – has written how these words from Isaiah 40 remind him of a memorable scene in The Horse and His Boy, one of the books from the Chronicles of Narnia. C. S. Lewis is telling the story of Shasta, a boy who is experiencing his own form of exile. He finds himself all alone, crying in a dark and terrifying place. He is obsessing about everything that has gone wrong in his world when, suddenly, he realizes he is not alone—some “Thing” is right beside him in the darkness (spoiler alert…):
It was pitch dark and [Shasta] could see nothing. And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.
Shasta discovers that the “Thing” beside him knows his story—everything that was causing him terror and grief. Shasta discovers that the “Thing” had been with him all along—orchestrating all the positive outcomes he had thought were simply his own dumb luck.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God…
As the scene reaches its climax, the great “Thing” turns out to be Aslan the lion (the representation of Christ in The Chronicles). The scene closes with these words:
The High King above all kings stooped towards [Shasta]. Its mane, and some strange and
solemn perfume that hung about the mane, was all around him. It touched his forehead
with its tongue. He lifted his face and their eyes met. Then instantly the pale brightness
of the mist and the fiery brightness of the Lion rolled themselves together into a swirling
glory and gathered themselves up and disappeared. [Shasta] was alone with his horse on
a grassy hillside under a blue sky. And there were birds singing.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God…and the glory of the LORD will be revealed.

We take great comfort in the truth that God did, and does, show up. Jesus did come. For us and for our salvation. This truth changes everything.

Hear the Word of God from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, 40:1-11 …. —-
1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem
lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

Modern English is not always helpful. When contemporary North American people hear the word “comfort” it usually means what we hope to get when we pay good money for a great pair of shoes or a better mattress or a recliner chair. Comfort can mean the compassion of another person—the consolation of empathy and presence we receive when life is really not going well. But God is promising so much more than a passing “there, there…” or a better night’s sleep. And the enormous cost of this promised hope and comfort is not ours but His.
Comfort can also mean the promise of strength. “You can do this,” God is saying. “I understand your frustration and fear. I know your weaknesses and failings. In fact, everything that is broken within your being has been double-fortified.”
“Look around you,” God continues, “the world you see right now is about to change—you won’t even recognize the landscape. Prepare for God’s arrival! Everyone is going to see the bright glory of God!”

These words were spoken into the bleak reality of political and religious exile. Nothing was the way it was “supposed” to be. Into the dismay of that new normal came the reminder that God was not finished yet. Does that not sound like our world – and what we need to hear from God again? He is not finished yet! And He is coming … again!

Take a moment and think about your personal circumstances. Maybe jot down a word or two on your Sermon Notes page:
Where is your life darkest or most uncertain? Where are you feeling most vulnerable, least secure?

God is walking beside you, and has been for a very long time. Have you felt the “breath” of God around you?

John Calvin once said that the whole Gospel can be seen in this brief text from Isaiah. In a sense that is true, but God expects a response to the Gospel. The reality of God’s comfort (both His caring and His strength) and God’s promise of all that is yet to come is very good news. It can arouse us to live differently in our current circumstances. Where would such a change be most important in your life?

Paul the Apostle reminds us, “9 But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Cor. 2)

Let’s take just a few minutes of quiet, listen to George Handel’s “Comfort Ye”, and ask for Christ to enter in where you most need is comfort – strength and understanding. Amen.

Resources:
Detterman, Paul; “Comfort, Comfort”; For Us and For Our Salvation: An Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Experience; Fellowship Community; 2014.
Lewis, C.S.; The Chronicles of Narnia: Book 5: The Horse and His Boy; Bles Publishers; London; 1954.

Micah 4 – Are We in the House of the Lord?

Mark Wheeler
October 5, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Micah 4
Are We in the House of the LORD?

O God, Beginning and Completion, in Jesus Christ You confirmed Your covenant with us and sealed every promise in His blood. Empower us through Your Holy Spirit to teach all You have commanded to the world, tell all You have done to our neighbors, and live as those who are deeply and eternally loved, for the glory and praise of Your name. Amen.

I meet in a small group of men, 8 of us, all in some form of ministry in the PC(USA). None of us know any of the others extremely well, but most of us get along well enough. However there is one guy in this group who really gets on my nerves – and because he’s an extrovert and I’m an introvert, his style is to “push buttons” and my style is to “sit and stew”. I might be the only one in this cohort that has this problem (that would surprise me, but it could be true), but in my silent frustration I build up resentment and experience a disturbed spirit.
Can anyone in this room relate?

In the musical, “South Pacific”, Lieutenant Cable sings that delightful Rogers and Hammerstein song, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, you’ve got to be taught from year to year, and it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You’ve got to be carefully taught!” It is true that little children seem to have no prejudice, but they gain prejudice by their parents or environment or experience. The idea is that we are naturally peaceful people, and we are taught hostility by others. Supposedly, if you leave us alone we are and will always remain sweet innocents.
We might wish that were so, but both history and theology teach us that it is not true. Ever since Cain rose up against Abel we have known that HOSTILITY, SELF-JUSTIFICATION, and PRIDE are what we do. Ever since Lot argued with Abraham, ever since Sarah sent Hagar into the wilderness, we have known that what is native to us is not harmony but hatred. And that means we have to be carefully taught, all right; but it is not that somebody has to teach us how to fight. Instead somebody has to teach us the way of PEACE. Somebody has to teach us how to be GENEROUS. “Why can’t we all just get along?” (Rodney King, 1993?) That is not going to happen all by itself. But we can be carefully taught the ways of peace; we can be carefully taught how to love; we can be carefully taught what generosity is all about.

We are in our fourth week looking at the Old Testament prophet Micah – a book of WORSHIP – a book which author’s name translates as “WHO IS LIKE YAHWEH?”. A book within which every chapter talks about how NOTHING or NO ONE compares to GOD! No one is like Him!
But this is also a book that claims that this God who is worthy of our worship is a God of JUSTICE which authorizes His JUDGMENT and provides means for His GRACE.

So with that backdrop in place, on this World Communion Sunday when some form of peace and unity among Christian believers is expressed, let’s look at the fourth chapter of Micah, & see what it says about his vision for peace, at least in the House of the LORD. Listen to God’s Word from Micah 4:1-13…. —-
1 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.
2 Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
3 He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
4 Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
5 All the nations may walk in the name of their gods,
but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.

What a vision that is! That to the house of the LORD all peoples would come to learn not war, but the art of peace. That to the people of God the nations might come to find out how to move from unending hostility to eternal peace. What a vision!
By nature people tend toward HOSTILITY, SELF-JUSTIFICATION, and PRIDE.
The House of the LORD is a place of PEACE, GENEROSITY, and HUMILITY. Let’s examine this more closely, this idea that the house of God is a house of PEACE, GENEROSITY, and HUMILITY.

First, notice what the house of the LORD must teach if it is to be a house of PEACE. The house of the LORD must teach, quite simply, God’s ways, God’s truths. If we are to be a house of peace, we must diligently and clearly teach the whole counsel of God. “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways … .” His ways … The most fundamental task we have is to teach our struggling world who God is and what He is about. All of it.
Christianity is more than helping people be nice to each other. It is more than just having pleasant conversations. To know the Christian faith is to know about God’s plan of salvation and God’s kind of costly peace. I believe that the world is hungry to know that. The world we encounter of HOSTILITY, SELF-JUSTIFICATION, and PRIDE wants to understand how life is more than empty politeness and pleasantries. We are called to teach the ways of God, and they have teeth in them. They are substantial.
Take the Ten Commandments, for example. They are not the ten suggestions. They are moral absolutes, without which life is chaos. If the house of the LORD is to be a house of PEACE, we must teach clearly what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable and what is not. Is it possible that part of the issue today is that we so want to make nice with the world that we stand for very little that is straightforward and clear?

But then, following closely on that, Micah tells us that God’s call to be a house of PEACE is not only teaching God’s ways; it is also walking in His paths. “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” To be a house of PEACE, we must not only teach substantial truths; we must model them. We must live them, act them out. If we are to be a house of PEACE, then we must show the world what reconciled relationships look like. We must actually live like we believe what we say we believe!
At least one way to envision living this out is with God’s GENEROSITY! God has freely given us a full relationship with Him through His Son’s death and resurrection, and His Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Do we generously give what God has entrusted to our care, away to others whom God also loves and may be calling into His flock?
If the church is to be a house of PEACE, then we must walk in God’s paths. We must model peacemaking. We must be a community where it does not matter so much where you have been or what you have done, but that you are here and that you are on the way to redemption. The church must be a place of generous forgiveness. We are not just a bunch of law-abiding middle-class folks who get together every Sunday to applaud one another for being nice. We are a gathering of the wounded and the hurting, the broken and the distressed, all of whom are being brought back to life by the Spirit of God. We are a fellowship of the last, the least, the lost, and the lonely, who do not prey on one another’s faults. Rather we feel one another’s pain and heal one another’s hurts. We carry the gift of peace, costly peace, to one another. To be a house of PEACE is not only to teach God’s truths, but also to walk in God’s paths of GENEROSITY.

And that will require the right set of tools. That will take good skills. Peacemaking is not some vague ideal without any particular skills. If we are to be a house of PEACE and GENEROSITY, we need to have the right tools. Micah’s image is very apt. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” God’s people will become equipped for peacemaking. Good intentions don’t get it done; preparation is everything.
Swords and spears are the tools of pride and fear. Plowshares and pruning hooks are the tools of HUMILITY and service! In Luke 10 Jesus tells 70 of His followers to go into the neighboring villages and ask the Lord of the harvest for laborers because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. LPC is about to experiment with some ways to be laborers in the harvest – with plowshares and pruning hooks, to be with our neighborhoods, here and where we live, to make PEACE in a hostile world, to offer GENEROSITY among those who are too busy justifying their own existence, and with HUMILITY to counter act the pride that lives within each of us.

So, where are we now? What have we learned from Micah? We have learned that to be a house of peacemaking we must commit to teaching God’s ways, all of them, the inconvenient as well as the convenient, the demanding as well as the pleasurable. It will not do to be half-hearted about who God is and what He expects. The world needs us to teach His ways.
And we have learned that to be a house of peacemaking, we need to walk in His paths, we need to model peace-filled lives. We need one another, warts and all. The world needs us to show that we can walk in His paths.
Beyond that, we have learned that to be a house of peacemaking, we need to equip ourselves with tools we can really use. We need to do more than blunder along whispering sweet nothings. We need to teach useful stuff, swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

But Micah wants us to see one thing more. One more element in becoming a house of PEACE. This house of PEACE begins with people of peace. It begins with personal peace. It starts with individuals who know a peace that passes understanding. When I hear Micah promise that “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid”, I hear him telling us that it is only when we are secure that we can be authentic peacemakers. It is only when we know peace within that we can make peace without. It is only when we have in our minds and hearts, a profound peace about who we are, that we can make peace for others. The world’s peace-issues will never be resolved until you and I resolve our own internal peace.

Do you remember my small group of pastors, and the one with whom I find personal hostility? Well, I expect that that is not the end of the story. As we gather around the Communion Table, as we commence to celebrate unity with believers across the globe, I ask your prayers to help me be a person of PEACE with this colleague, a person who teaches and lives out the whole counsel of God with this neighbor, a person of GENEROUS grace and HUMBLE boldness with our interactions.

And I ask your prayers for yourselves, as well; for we all need God’s help to be such people of PEACE and GENEROSITY and HUMILITY.

Are we in the House of the LORD? It must be about peace with God. It must be about being secure in the knowledge that if we forgive others their debts, so also our heavenly Father will forgive us. It is about having peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Are we in the House of the LORD? Let this be a church where truth is taught and embraced. Let this be a community where we show the world how to live in generous peace. Let this be a place where we are equipped with the humble tools that can make peace. But above all, let this very room echo, week after week, with the voices of those who have found the ultimate peace in the Prince of Peace, for “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid”. In this house of PEACE. Amen.

Resources:
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 479.

Smith, Joseph; “In This House of Peacemaking”; Takoma Park Baptist Church; Washington, DC; July 27, 2008.

Micah 1 – “Will Peace Come in the Mourning”

Mark Wheeler
September 14, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Micah 1
Will Peace Come in the Mourning?

God of awesome majesty, silence in us each false word and turn our lives to Your obedience, so that every word on our lips may bring honor to Your name, and our very lives may be a holy and acceptable gift to You. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Doesn’t it feel good to be back in the groove of the program year? For some it means their entire lives get re-scheduled – school work and all; for others it means planning commute time differently; and for others it means a new routine for monthly meetings and weekly get-togethers. Here at LPC it means monthly fellowship opportunities and outreach groups are back in action (Breakfast Club and Livewires and Lighthouse Circle, for example), choirs get to plan for regular rehearsals and performances (Chancel Choir and Praise Team and Just-for-Fun), Bible Study groups rededicate (midweek and Sunday School).
It also means we look together at pieces of Scripture that we might choose to ignore if we didn’t have each other to read with. So this Fall, as we start our new Program Year, our Sunday mornings will explore God’s Word from a couple Old Testament prophets. We start with Micah.

Today I want to give you an overview of the whole book (7 chapters, about 6 pages in most Bibles), and then hear some main points from chapter 1.

This background might sound like boring minutia, but hear it out and you’ll see how vitally it effects our understanding of the book.
First, who is this prophet Micah? He’s a small town man, from Moresheth, whom God called to proclaim His word to the people of the big city of Jerusalem.
Second, when did this Micah live? He lived during the time just after the northern kingdom of Israel had been taken captive/sent into exile by Assyria, 120 years before the southern kingdom of Judah was captured by Babylon. Around 725BC to 680BC. This is important because God’s Word, which is for all people of all time, was written in the context of actual history with actual people during actual historical events. We learn from this that the Old Testament prophet Micah lived in a DIVIDED world – the powerful against the weak, the wealthy against the poor, and the people of God against God Himself!
Third, the name of this prophet describes the book’s most major theme. The name “Micah” means “WHO IS LIKE YAHWEH?”. In the whole book, every chapter talks about how NOTHING or NO ONE compares to GOD! No one is like Him! While the local Philistines had their own gods whom the people of God had started worshiping, and the Assyrians from the east had their own gods, and the Babylonians who would conquer Judah in a number of decades had their own gods – none of them compared to Yahweh, the God of the Jews, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! Yahweh is God of the WHOLE world! – of the entire universe! There is nothing like Him!
Fourth, what are ways this main theme gets talked about? There are actually three ways this uniquely powerful and loving God displays His God-ness: Micah wants his hearers (and readers) to know that God is a God of JUSTICE! God is a God of JUDGMENT! And, God is a God of GRACE!

So with that overview in mind, let’s look at the first chapter of Micah, & see what it says about what causes God’s judgment, and whether peace can ever be the result of the hardships we find ourselves in. Listen to God’s Word from Micah 1:1-16…. —-
1 The Word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah—the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.
2 Hear, you peoples, all of you, listen, earth and all who live in it,
that the Sovereign LORD may bear witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple.
3 Look! The LORD is coming from his dwelling place; he comes down and treads on the heights of the earth.
4 The mountains melt beneath him and the valleys split apart, like wax before the fire, like water rushing down a slope.
5 All this is because of Jacob’s transgression, because of the sins of the people of Israel.
What is Jacob’s transgression? Is it not Samaria?
What is Judah’s high place? Is it not Jerusalem? …
… 16 Shave your head in mourning for the children in whom you delight;
make yourself as bald as the vulture, for they will go from you into exile.

The prophet Micah summons the image of a vulture, some translations say “the bald eagle” as a symbol of a people! How fascinating that when Micah looked for something visible that would carry God’s message to Judah, he pointed to a large and powerful bird that had no feathers in its cap. And since in the ancient world, a shaved head showed grief, this bird’s baldness signaled a nation that would grieve, a people that would mourn. “Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair for your pampered children; make yourselves as bald as the vulture or the eagle, for they have gone from you into exile.”
Look at the old bald eagle, said Micah; look at his uncovered head. What a picture of loss! Your very symbol of power becomes for you a portrait of pain and powerlessness. The nation is under judgment. Grieve for it. A conqueror will take you away. Mourn for all of that.

Two questions this morning. One: If there is to be judgment, why? What is it that causes God’s judgment? What is it that would bring about the collapse of a great people?
And, two: what about this conqueror? Who or what might he be? Is this to be the leader of another nation, with superior military power? Is this conqueror to be a visionary with a new way of thinking? Just who or what is coming to take over the bald-eagle people?

First, what had the nation done that it should mourn like the bald eagle? What is so severe that they would bring about the collapse of a great people? Micah is confident that painful days are on the way for the people of Judah.
These things Micah will deal with over the course of his entire prophecy. He will go into excruciating detail about some of them. But the great high water mark of Micah’s prophecy gives us all we need to understand the reasons for God’s judgment. Micah 6:8 tells us: “He has told you … what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.
The judgment was to come on Judah because, first, she ignored justice; because, second, she was skeptical of kindness and compassion; and because, finally, she left God out of the equation. Judah was headed for a state of collapse – economic, moral, and spiritual collapse. Judah was going to look like a bald vulture, still flying around but showing signs of mourning.
On your Sermon Notes page it asks, “What causes God’s judgment?” And the answer is SIN. The sin that Micah describes for the nation of Judah where Jerusalem was the capitol was that they did not love their neighbors as themselves (justice and kindness), and they did not love the Lord their God with all their heart, all their soul, all their mind, and all their strength (walk humbly with God).

In this 21st Century, I tremble not for ancient Judah, but for my own country. I tremble for America. For we are going through a period of financial uncertainty, and those who will pay the price of it are not the stock speculators or the oil barons. Those who will pay the price of our troubled economy are those who are already on the margins, those who can barely eke out an existence day by day. We are hearing too many stories of people who must compromise nutrition for their children because they can no longer afford proper food. We are reading of homes foreclosed and families evicted because jobs have dried up. I do not have answers to these dilemmas; I am not an economist. But I do know that a land that lives on injustice cannot last long. I do know that those who prey on the dreams of the poor are undermining the nation. Bald eagle America, are we experiencing an economic collapse?
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness …?” I tremble for a nation verging on moral collapse. A society where dishonesty and greed are so much the norm that a man who finds a diamond ring worth $40,000 and turns it in is reported as if he were a freak. When kindness and common decency are laughed at, we are on the way to full-scale moral collapse. And then, Bald Eagle America, what do we do and where do we go? I tremble for my country if we no longer love kindness.
And most of all, I think I am ready to point to the bald eagle as our symbol, for fewer and fewer of us walk humbly with our God. Fewer of us understand that we have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We no longer quake at the thought that a just God will judge us; we want only a nice, sweet, grandfatherly God who pampers us in our little indulgences. We do not want to hear Micah, trumpeting a God who will hold us accountable. We want a bland and generous God who really cares very little about how we live, a God who will give everybody, whether they acknowledge Christ Jesus or not, a nice retirement package in a golden heaven, presumably equipped with sandy beaches and golf courses where we always get a hole-in-one! We are a people who, if the surveys are to be believed, overwhelmingly say that we believe in God, but who refuse to understand that we are to walk with Him, pray to Him, live in and with Him, and live lives worthy of His name! Nor, for that matter, do many want a church that speaks God’s truth and holds out Jesus’ way of life. We want churches that demand little but attendance, and make us feel good but teach little of substance. We are on the way to spiritual collapse.
Economic collapse, moral collapse, and spiritual collapse. Micah is speaking directly to Judah in 700BC, but is he not also speaking to US in 2014AD?! “Mourn for the collapse of your nation. Mourn for the disrepair of your country.” “Make yourselves as bald as the eagle.” And mourn! What does the Lord require but justice and kindness and a humble walk with God? These things we are throwing away, and we will suffer for it.

But, will peace come in the Mourning? Micah also speaks also of a Conqueror who will come to Judah. Part of his warning is that God will send someone who will take them over. Who might that be?
Well, when Micah was preaching, it could have been Assyria. The Assyrians had already conquered the Kingdom of Israel in the north. But in the end, more than 100 years after Micah’s preaching, it turned out to be the Babylonians. Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar was the raging beast that gobbled up the Assyrians and then they conquered Judah.

That’s Judah and her conqueror. What of us? What of America? Who will conquer us? Is God preparing a conqueror for us, as He did for Judah?
Are we to be conquered by the armed forces of another nation? That may seem preposterous right now, when America is the world’s only superpower. But you can bet that ISIS has got President Obama a little nervous right now. It could happen. We did just commemorate 9/11 last Thursday!
Or will our conquest be more subtle? Will it be that no outside force will be so dangerous as our inside forces? Will it be that conquest will come from our abandoning God’s requirements? Will the conquest come from within as we ignore justice, discount compassion, and make a mockery of true faith? Are the seeds of our conquest already sown in our failing economy, our moral misjudgments, and our spiritual anemia?
I know today that I sound impossibly prudish. To call for personal integrity, to summon us to treat all people with dignity, of whatever race or standing or opinion, is to take a stand in quicksand. To ask for respectful language, to work for faithfulness in marriage, to point out the evils of alcohol and marijuana is a struggle that no 21st century prophet will easily win. But God told Micah to call the people to kindness and mercy and integrity; how can we today do any less?
And I know that today it is no longer fashionable to utter the clear word of the Scripture, that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life; that outside of Him there is no hope; and that there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we may be saved. I know that the politically correct thing is to be vaguely spiritual in some non-committal way.
But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Israel and Judah; the God of Micah the prophet and David the King and Solomon the Wise; most of all, the God of Jesus of Nazareth permits no rivals and allows no imposters. Who is like Yahweh? He is God, and there is no other. If we do not take that message to a truth-starved world, then we have lost it all. We are conquered. Not by outside forces, but by our own reluctance to stand and be counted. Are we like bald vultures?

Will Peace, even Joy, Come in the Mourning?
Here is the Good News: Here is the wonderful Good News: Our God has already sent a Conqueror. Our God has already invaded us, and has sent us one who will conquer our hearts as well as our possessions and our bodies. Our God has already come among us in power, and has already gained victory over everything that threatens us.
Our God has sent a Conqueror, the Captain of our souls, who climbed Mount Calvary, and in His sacrificial death paved the way. We learn from Jesus the cost of our salvation and we see in Him the way to love.
Our God has sent a Conqueror, who in His glorious resurrection has defeated death and has destroyed the powers of evil. Our God has sent a Conqueror who has showed us more than justice, whose compassions fail not, and who has taken captive our very hearts.
For though we deserve to die, He gives life. Though we feel grief, He gives a reason to hope. He is a Conqueror, though not like any other. “For not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly Kingdom comes.” (from Lead On, O King Eternal)

Will Peace Come in the Mourning? May our sign no longer be the Bald Vulture, the raptor that signals mourning for a failing people. May our sign be the dove of peace, descending around the cross. The dove of Christ’s peace, doled out in justice, love, and presence. The Dove of Baptism which signals each of us as called by God to stand tall. Come. Come and find peace, even in the mourning. Amen.

Resources: (with special thanks and credit to Joseph Smith [cf below] for his insight and illustrations)
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 464.

Smith, Joseph; “The Bald Eagle”; Takoma Park Baptist Church; Washington, DC; July 6, 2008.

Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary 32; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 4-23.