09/13/2015 – Exodus 20:1-3 – 10 Rules for Faithful Living: “No Other”

Mark Wheeler

Exodus 20:1-3; Deuteronomy 5:1-7; Matthew 22:34-38; Mark 12:28-30

“10 Rules for Faithful Living: No Other”

September 13, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

We come to worship today, O Lord, on this weekend when we remember the devastations of 9/11/2001, and we are humbled by the gift we have – the gift of freedom and the opportunities to live into that freedom. Help us, right now, to put away any lingering anger or fear, any prejudice or hate, even any thoughts or wonderings about those who perpetrated such evil or the direct victims of that evil. 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. 

Ma and Pa made their annual visit to church for the Christmas Eve service.
As they were leaving, the minster 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.”

 

7 habits of,  3 steps to,  10 rules for …

Too simple to be real, but often offer something of substance …

The right place of order/law – keeps us in line (speed limit, good neighbors=good fences)

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

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)

Page 2 of The Law of Liberty – “O How I Love Thy Law”

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. For the next couple of months we will listen as God’s Word reminds us what He demands.

Here are the opening words, and the first of the Big 10 Commandments. Hear the Word of the Lord….—-

Exodus 20: And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

 

And from Deuteronomy 5 (Latin or Greek majors? What does “deuteros” mean? Second – that’s what this whole book is about – the 2nd time Moses tells us about the Law.) Hear the Word of the Lord….—-

Moses summoned all Israel and said:

Hear, Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. The Lord spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (At that time I stood between the Lord and you to declare to you the word of the Lord, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. Let’s do this sermon a little differently today – turn to someone near you and tell that person what this Commandment means. Both Exodus and Deuteronomy tell it in exactly the same way: You shall have no other gods before me. What does that mean? Now, let’s hear what some of you said – anyone? Would anyone like to yell out a god that maybe threatens this Commandment? What gods in our culture seem to come before the Lord our God?·       Money·       Success·       Education·       Being right·       Fun·       Stuff·       Worry·       Fear·       FOMO

How do we have victory over these “other gods”?

Exodus 20: And God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

And the second time Moses said this, when he reminded the Israelites, and you and me, of these Commandments, he said it like this:

Deuteronomy 5: Moses summoned all Israel and said:

Hear, Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. The Lord spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (At that time I stood between the Lord and you to declare to you the word of the Lord, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

How do we have victory over these “other gods”? Trust in the Lord our God! He is the One who rescues, redeems, saves, and secures us in His presence!

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? (Look at your Sermon Notes page…): (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.

In Luke’s Gospel some lawyer who wants to be a follower of Jesus asks Jesus how to follow Him, so Jesus asks the lawyer what the greatest Commandment is – and this lawyer gives this exact same answer (Luke 10:27).

Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got, always, never-ending, without failhave no other godsno desire for riches, no dreams of popularity, no over-extended hopes for glamour, no worries, no fearshave no other gods!

 

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.

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. 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.

Psalm 119:2 tells us: “Blessed are they that keep God’s testimonies, and they that seek Him with their whole heart.” Amen.

Resources:

The Law of Liberty; “O How I Love Thy Law”, “Unfolding God’s Glorious Law”; Project Restore, Inc; Locust Dale, VA; 2006; Pp. 2-4.

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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.

07/12/2015 – I John 1:8-9 – “A New GPS: Grace Placement System”

Mark Wheeler

I John 1:5-10

“A New GPS: Grace Placement System”

July 12, 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 coming Friday evening is our church’s “faith night” at Avista Stadium – a group of us from LPC will cheer on the Spokane Indians as they battle it out with the Tri-City Dustdevils. One of the joys of Minor League Baseball is the games the audience gets to play – like “catch the T-shirt” where they shoot rolled-up T-shirts out of a cannon and the audience tries to be one of the few lucky winners. But catching a T-shirt, or for that matter a foul ball, consists of four things all converging: 1) you have to be at the game; 2) you need to be paying attention; 3) there has to be a T-shirt being shot out of a cannon (or a foul ball hit off a bat); and 4) you need to be in exactly the right place for the shirt/ball to land in your lap.

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. Today we’re going to talk about how those same four factors fit into our study on Grace.

1)   Are we “at the game”?

2)   Are we paying attention? What do we expect?

3)   Is Grace being shot out of a cannon?

4)   Are we in the right place to receive it?

This morning we are reading from the First New Testament Letter from the Apostle John, and then we will also look at the Old Testament book of Psalms #32.

The first 3 of the factors we just mentioned are going to be assumed – and yes, I know that’s always a mistake – but because we are here this morning, and notat the lake” or still in bed or off to the casino, let’s just pretend we are all “at the game”. (The whole spectator image is a troubling image to begin with, right? We should all be “in the game”, not just “at” it. But let’s go with this failed metaphor for now. We’re at the game – we recognize that the Christian faith, as described in the Bible and taught by Jesus, is the only right faith system to live under. We areat the game”!

Let’s also assume we are paying attention! That’s a huger assumption, but for the sake of today’s topic I am pretending that I am paying attention to the things of God as well as you are; and that together we are paying close enough attention to actually see where God is leading us.

And the 3rd factor-assumption is the truth that Grace is being shot out of the cannon! God shot that Grace at us on the day that Jesus was crucified on our behalf. Grace was shot out on that day when I heard the Gospel clearly for the first time. Grace was shot out when I was fired, or cheated on, or failed that test, or missed that bus – and God’s perfect revealed will brought me to my knees. Friends, Grace is shot out today, right now. Are you at the game and paying attention?

From I John 1:5-10 we read these words of truth …. —-

This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in darkness [if we claim to be “at the game” and paying attention, but are, in fact, either not really walking in faith at all, or maybe we have received Jesus as Lord and Savior, but today we have decided that it’s just not worth the struggle – if that’s the case], we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. [Ahh, there’s the Grace shot out of the cannon!]

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His Word has no place in our lives.

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

The 4th factor is where we are concentrating today! Are we in the right place to receive the Grace that has been shot out? What does that reading from I John 1 tell us is the key to this 4th factor? If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Confession puts us in the right place to receive God’s Grace! Confession is the Grace Placement System! What does that mean? And how does that work?

The definition of the word “confession” includes the act or process of confessing, as in telling one’s life story as a series of failings or tribulations. We think of it as admitting when we’ve done wrong.

The root-word of “confession is the Latin word “fateri”, “to admit“, akin to “fari”, “speak“. And you add to that root the prefix “con which means “together” (congregate = gather together, commune = unite together). Therefore, confess = admit, tell, together.

When we confess our sins, we take off our masks, we reveal our-selves, we open our vulnerabilities, to God (and maybe to one another). And that act puts us in the right place to receive God’s perfect grace (and the grace that might be offered from the victim of our offense).

How many of you had a mom who told you something like: “Confession is good for the soul”? How is “confession good for the soul”? It puts us in the right seat to catch that T-shirt of God’s Grace! That’s the secret difference between going to the Indians baseball game and catching a foul ball or a T-shirt. Being in the right seat is just a matter of luck! Not true for catching God’s Grace. It’s not a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

But do not hear me say that there’s a way to earn God’s Grace. Confession does not make us worthy of God’s Grace. There is nothing we can do to make us more or less worthyGod’s perfect Grace is un-earnable. What confession does do is put us in the right placeconfession readies our soul to receive, confession softens our heart to consent, confession opens our spirit to accept the Grace God offers through His Son Jesus Christ, as Savior and as Lord!

Probably the most famous Bible confession is the Old Testament King David. You know the story: King David looked out over his kingdom and peeping-tommed a neighbor-lady named Bathsheba, whose husband was away serving in the military. So he invited her up for dinner, and before the night was over she was expecting a baby. The story gets much worse than that, but that’s the beginning.Later, David’s friend and adviser helps him see the error of his way – and he confesses, both to his friend and to the Lord.

Psalm 51 contains some of the words of that confession; and Psalm 32 tells the story of that confession. Psalm 32, verse 5, is in your Sermon Notes page, but listen to verses 1-4 as well …. —-

Blessed is the one    whose transgressions are forgiven,     whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one    whose sin the Lord does not count against them    and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,    my bones wasted away    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night    your hand was heavy on me;   my strength was sapped    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess    my transgressions to the Lord
.”   And you forgave     the guilt of my sin.

Did you catch the principles of confession in this psalm?

The beginning of verse 5 says:Then I acknowledged my sin to you    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess    my transgressions to the Lord.”

ADMITTING that we have sinned. Admit it! Acknowledge the fact that what I did was a sin! It offended God’s sense of justice and love. It was against His Laws. I disobeyed my Lord! Admission of guilt! I am a sinner!

The end of verse 5 says:And you forgave     the guilt of my sin.BELIEVING that God actually forgives sinners.

He forgives my sins. God forgives your sins. Christ paid the debt our sin deserves when He died on the cross – and was raised to eternal life. The letter of I John, our Thursday class has been discovering, repeats 3 tests of Genuine Faith – the moral test (do you obey the Lord’s commands?), the love test (do you love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind? and do you love your neighbor as yourself?), and the belief test (do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He forgives your sins through His death and resurrection?).

I John 1:8-9, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

Confession becomes a new Grace Placement System – confessing our sin puts us in the right place to RECEIVE God’s grace.

 

The very bottom of your Sermon Notes page has a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from his WWII era book called Life Together, written for the underground Church in Germany during Hitler’s tyrannous regime. Listen to his words: “A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.

We Protestants get a little uncomfortable when we talk about “going to a confessional”. The Roman Catholics teach a doctrine about how forgiveness can only be achieved by confessing to the Father through a priest; and we Protestants believe that the Bible calls us directly to God, without the need of a human arbiter. But, there is something powerful about allowing our inmost fears and vulnerabilities be seen by a brother or sister in Christ. I have avoided this for most of my faith, except in general terms as we pray together in church. But for the last 15 years I have been meeting almost weekly with another pastor, a friend, a colleague, a brother, with whom we share our struggles and our fears and our sins, for the purpose of hearing a brother pray with and for us! I confess that I experience the presence of God in the reality of my friend Chris.

In just a moment we will go to the Lord in prayer, but let’s go there to sit in the right seat. Let’s be in the right place to receive God’s Grace.

Let us live into 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 – maybe by confessing our sins with each other! 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:

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; Life Together; Harper & Row; San Francisco, CA; 1954; P. 116.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php.

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 79-89.

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.

05/17/2015 – I Peter 3:15 – “Following Jesus Today: Show and Tell”

Mark Wheeler

I Peter 3:15

“Following Jesus Today: Show and Tell”

May 17, 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.

Does everybody here remember grade school “Show and Tell” time? When I was in kindergarten this happened every Wednesday. Every kid in the class had the chance of bringing something from home that we could show our classmates and tell about. One time I “borrowed” my brother’s favorite rock, and hid it in the coatroom so I could surprise my class with how cool I was. When “Show and Tell” time came all the kids who brought something went to get their items – but “my” rock wasn’t there. I was devastated – and scared, because my brother didn’t know I had “borrowed” it…. (I later learned that the custodian thought it was “just a rock” [which, in reality, it was], and threw it out into the yard somewhere. Oh, and my brother, never missed it; it wasn’t really his favorite, or anything special at all.)

Our three graduates just finished (or are about to finish) their grown-up versions of “Show and Tell”. Final Projects, theses, term papers, Final Exams, etc – those are just “college-ageShow and Tell’” items.

During these weeks between Easter and Pentecost (that’s next week), we are learning 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, and how to know Truth from falsehood.

Today we go to the general epistle of the APOSTLE Peter, in fact this Apostle Peter was one of Jesus’ three key LEADERS (James, John and Peter got to spend a lot of “alone time” with Jesus), and listen for what he says about Following Jesus Today. Obviously, he wrote this letter almost 2,000 years ago – but his original recipients were groups of people who lived under constant THREAT because of their faith in JESUS; the minor threats we might live under here in America make this letter very apropos for us 21st century followers of Jesus, too, especially when we see followers of Jesus in Africa and the Middle East being killed nearly every week. Listen to the Word of God, from I Peter 3:15…. —-

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….”

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. Did you hear Peter? He just gave us “Show and Tellinstructions! He said, “Your chance to share this most valuable item with the rest of us is coming – here’s how you show us and tell us about that valued thing.” The first thing Peter tells us is what this “favorite rock” we are bringing for Show and Tell is. He writes, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord.That is what this “favorite rock” is really all about. Remember when Jesus took His disciples away to a private place so He could talk with them about who He really was? He asked them to tell Him who people, both His critics and His cronies, His foes and His friends, those who wanted to behead Him and those who wanted to BFF Him, who do these people think He is? And these Apostles started spouting off all the stuff they had heard from all the gossip columns and talk shows. Then Jesus turned straight to them and asked, “OK, so who do you think I am?” And Peter, this same Peter said, “You are the Christ, the promised Messiah. You’re the Son of the living God!Jesus told Peter, “That’s my favorite rock! I’m going to build my Church on that rock! And this Church will knock down every stronghold of Satan that exists!

Now, in this letter, Peter says, “Revere this Christ as Lord! This is that rock we’re bringing to Show and Tell!”  There are four key words in this verse – four words of instruction for every follower of Jesus – four words about how and when it is our turn for Show and Tell.

1)   ALWAYS be prepared…. When is my turn? ALWAYS! When should I be ready to Show someone the reason for my hope? ALWAYS! But really, do I have a specific time and place? Yes,,, ALWAYS! This means that it is never just a projectevangelism isn’t something I go out and do; ALWAYS be prepared is just the way we live – at work, at play, at the desk, in the field, on the lot, in the gym, behind the wheel, in front of the TV. ALWAYS be prepared!

So does that mean I never get to have fun? Of course that’s not what it means – what it does mean, however, is that our fun always glorifies God! Question and Answer #1 of the Westminster Catechism: What is the chief end of man (what are we here for)? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!This week I heard a message on KMBI radio about how obedience to God means complete obedience to God. We can’t obey Him part way and wonder why things worked out the way they did. The illustration used was the Joshua and the battle of Jericho story. The plan to defeat Jericho by marching around it several times seemed silly, but that’s what God said to do. After marching around once on the first day, nothing happenedno cracks in the wall, no evidence of victory or surrender at all. The same on day 2, and day 3, and so on. I imagine Joshua thinking, “C’mon God? Isn’t this what you said to do?” Not until 7 days of marching, and finally blowing those horns and shouting, did they see anything. And then – the whole city came a tumblin’ down, down, down, down.

ALWAYS be prepared … means to always obey and be ready. ALWAYS.

2)   Give the reason for the HOPE you have …. This is not an order to go to seminary and earn a degree in theology and biblical apologetics. It simply says, Always be prepared to give a reason for the HOPE you have…. If you cannot explain why you have any HOPE in God through Jesus, if the Holy Spirit does not inspire a word of explanation for your HOPE … maybe you need to examine if you really have any HOPE. Is Jesus in your life? Do you trust Him in this life?

3)   Do this with GENTLENESS …. Have ever heard someone share their faith in such a way that totally embarrassed the other person, and maybe even the one sharing his faith? There probably is a proper time and place for the “Turn or Burn” signs on the street corners – but those signs win few converts unless the person reading it is literally headed straight into a fire!

Gentle loving kindness wins people into the Christian faith with more real authenticity and truer longevity than Bible thumping or haranguing.

4)   Do this with RESPECT! Respecting the place the other person is coming from; respecting cultural differences; respecting possible life-difficulties; respecting different ideologies, political perspectives, backgrounds; does not mean agreeing with them – or even regarding them as equally valid or true. It does mean holding the other person in a place of honor. She’s probably really trying her best in this life! He’s probably dealing with a whole set of life circumstances we can’t understand.

But always being ready to give the reason for the hope you have, and doing that with gentleness and respect will win your respect. Listening with ears that love will win the accessibility to share why we have hope!

Today I am giving you a little homework assignment. We are just about to honor our graduates, but these grads need to know that just because you wear a cap and gown does not mean homework is done – in fact, in some ways, it is just beginning.

Your Sermon Notes page lists, at the bottom, two… Spiritual Practices for all who are serious about your faith: These are by no means meant to be exclusive. There are countless spiritual practices one might do to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ – but here are two things that apply to today’s Scripture reading:

  • Talk to a youth/young adult, asking about any time they may have experienced God outside a church setting (and listen to their answer); and ask if they could send a photo of such an experience.
  • Pray the following prayer each day for the next week: “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. Amen.”

Alright. It’s time to invite our grads to come forward for a little commissioning ceremony, and to honor them for their hard work. And to pray for them as they continue to venture forthalways being prepared to share the reason for their hope, revering Christ as Lord, with gentleness and respectNikolay Bulakh – was the first person who said TODAY was the best day for this to happen – and then he called me Friday to say he had just entered into a Chess Tournament and would not be able to be here. Anyway, Nikolay’s mom, Vera, is here. Vera, please come forward.

Nikolay graduated from Gonzaga University last Sunday, with a Bachelor of Science, Mechanical Engineering.

Andrew Wheeler – and mom and Brianna, come on up with him. Andrew graduates this afternoon, from Whitworth University, with three degrees, Bachelor of Arts, Cross-cultural Studies, International Studies, and Peace Studies.

Caitlin Wheeler – whose whole family is already up here. Caitlin will earn her Masters degree in Fine Arts from Eastern Washington University.

Vera please give our love and deepest respect to Nikolay; Andrew and Caitlin – your Church could not be more proud of your accomplishments, and we pray for how you continue to grow in your fields, and make this world a better place! These gifts are for you.

Let’s pray:Our heavenly Father, as we stand with these graduates and their families, we stand in awe of their fidelity and hard work and integrity of spirit and heart and mind. Today, we stand together, and peer into their future with them, wondering how You will use their passions and skills to help build Your Kingdom purposes. Today, dear Lord, we commission Nikolay and Andrew and Caitlin into Your service, in the fields they have studied and prepared themselves, to represent your purposes of peace and love and justice, in all the ways You have crafted their hearts and minds into Yours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Resources:

Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 31-36.

05/03/2015 – John 18:37-38 – Following Jesus Today: “What Is Truth?”

Mark Wheeler

John 18:37-38; I Timothy 3:15

“Following Jesus Today: What Is Truth?”

May 3, 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.

I spent some significant time this week chatting with a group of “millennials”, people born sometime between the mid-1980s and the late 1990s – basically people that are now in their 20s. We talked about what it means to be a Christian in this 21st century, and why so many in their generation do not go to church. Of course there is no single answer to that question but among those who grew up in church-going homes and attended church as children the common thread of answers seems to lie in the field of understanding what is “real”, what is “authentic”, what is “truth”.

(In part, this is why it is so important for us to use those yellow inserts in today’s bulletin as guides for every one of us to ask a simple question of this same generation – “where have you experienced God in your lives, outside of a church setting?”) Listen to their stories, and ask if they could send a photo of something that represents such an experience.

If something smacks of phoniness, or feels fake or put on, millennials go the other way. And in my humble opinion, they are right to do so! Who wants to invest their lives, their money, their time, in something that purports to be one thing but feels like something very different?

Not me! If I’m giving 10% of my family income to an organization, I want to trust that that organization uses my resources for the things it says it will (and which I, too, support!).

Now, hear this: that was not an introduction to a lecture on how good this church is with our finances. I think we are good – but that is not the topic of today’s message. Today’s topic is much deeper: “What is truth?

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, 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), and what it means to love God and to love our neighbors.Today we will listen to the Bible address the issue of Truth – and we’ll examine whether we live authentically with/in that Truth. Listen to the Word of God, from John 18:37-38, this takes place after Jesus’ arrest and as He stands trial before Pontius Pilate…. —-

37 ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.

Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’

38 ‘What is truth?’ retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against him.’

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. “What is truth?” What a great question! And, in fact, one which people continue to ask every day every where.Have you ever sat on a jury? That’s the whole jobdetermine what is truth. Baltimore, MD, is on lockdown because of the difference of opinion about what is truth. Last night, who won the fight? Did Mayweather knock Pacquaio out? Did he even knock him down? No. Three judges, none of whom felt the blow of a single punch, decided that Mayweather won. In baseball, whichever team has the most runs won the game. In boxing, sometimes, it’s whoever looked better…. What is truth?

And we people are prone to argue over what is truth. Sometimes it is truly a matter of opinion – is cherry cheese cake better or is blood pudding better?

Sometimes it is black and white – is 6 greater than 1? But even that can be gray – is 6 African elephants greater than 1 cherry cheese cake?

And sometimes two people can look at the exact same evidence, and because of personal experience and perspective, come to two very different conclusions – when Jesus says, in John 14:6, just before His arrest, “I-am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”, did He really mean that belief in Him is the only link to a truly real relationship with God?

What is truth?” I looked it up in my Funk & Wagnall’s. After 26 lines of arbitration my Funk & Wagnall’s finally defines “Truth” as that which holds “stedfast [sic] fidelity to order and law.”

Steadfast fidelity to order and law. If it doesn’t make sense – it is not “truth”; if it doesn’t hold true in every circumstance – it is not “truth”.

This is, in part, why we live in a world where “Truth” is in the eye of the BEHOLDER. It’s all very subjective. “What may be true for you – fine, and happy for you – may not be true for me.” That is how modern culture has defined “truth. One cannot talk about “absolute Truth” without offending someone – we therefore have collectively decided there is no such thing.

But here’s the truly real thing: part of what it means to be a Follower of Jesus is to believe that God truly is real – and that this truly real God has chosen to reveal Himself to us through His written Word, the Bible.

And if the Bible is this truly real God’s Word to His creation, we must decide to either believe it is truly real or not. Paul told his young protégé Timothy to remember that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” “God-breathed” or “God-inspired” is supposed to suggest “trustworthy, believable”. The Bible is True!

This truly trustworthy, believable Word of God tells us that Jesus came as truly God and truly human in order to right our relationship with God, by dying on the cross and being resurrected on the third dayThis is Truth! Always, every where, all the time.  And it doesn’t matter whether we believe it or not, it is still true! Always, every where, all the time.

Being the Church means we do believe that! Peter is well known, among other things, for being the first to declare to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” And Jesus quickly responded by declaring that that Truth is the foundation stone upon which His Church would be built – and that even the gates of hell would not be able to stand against it!

That’s the Church I want to be a part of! LPC is not a perfect example of such a Church – we fail and falter and fight and finagle with the best of them – but LPC is truly on the right track!

Paul, again advising his youthful disciple Timothy in I Timothy 3:15, reminded him that “the church of the living God [is] the pillar and the foundation of the Truth.

In what ways is the Church of Jesus Christ as a whole called to preserve the Truth while engaging with non-believers? In what ways is the Church to be “the pillar and foundation of Truth”? We need to, at least, hold on to God’s Word as authoritative over faith and life. We could let culture determine what is true, ignoring Scripture; but to do that would be to turn our backs on the truly real God who so loved the world He sent His one and only Son so that anyone who believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life!

We need to pray – to give our concerns to God and to trust Him for His powerful, loving presence to see us through.

We need to love the Lord our God, with everything we’ve got; and we need to love our neighbors by pointing them to His perfect love, at every chance we can.

And we need to do this togethernot as lone rangers or rock star soloists – but as branches of the same Church of Jesus Christ, regardless of the name on the sign out front.

What is one thing LPC can do to be preservers of this Truth? One thing? Preach with authenticity. One thing? Live in ways that demonstrate our faith. One thing? Ask our young adult and teen-aged neighbors about their God-experiences. One thing? Be present in our neighborhoods, loving and serving with God’s love and presence and purpose.

Imagine the impact on Spokane if the 65 of us and the other 30,000 Followers of Jesus in Spokane, actually told the Truth to just four other people this year.

This is the foundation of our Vision Statement: We are a people who:

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 serving others who do not yet

Know the power and love of God….*

Let’s answer this question loud and clear. What is Truth? Jesus is the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Him!

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.

04/26/2015 – 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.