01/13/2019 = II Timothy 4:1-5 = Learning Where to Look: “How to Find Focus”

(Click HERE to FIND audio)

Mark Wheeler

II Timothy 4:1-5

Learning Where to Look: “How to Find Focus

01/13/2019

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,           

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Last Summer our two daughters took a vacation together to visit our father-land – Ireland. This story may or may not be one that they told me…:

Some lost tourists in Ireland stops to ask a local farmer for directions. The farmer asks what their destination is, and after listening to their hoped-for destination, he takes off his flat-cap, wipes his brow, looks the tourist in the eye and says, “Well, if I were trying to get there, I wouldn’t start from here.”

 

I stepped into my bank on Friday (Chase®) and they are advertising for retirement plans all over with big posters that say, “It Doesn’t Matter Where You Start”. … I think it kinda does….

 

We live in a world, our country and most of the nations in the “advanced western world”, where we think we know what’s best for everyone around us, but we really don’t know how to get there from where we are.

 

Many of us, professional Christians (pastors, Bible School professors, seminary professors, bishops, etc) and most lay-folks, from behind pulpits and from the pews, start in the wrong place when thinking about life’s challenges, beginning first with self, personal opinion, what seems right, what feels good. What we do is start with our own experiential center rather than a theological center.

If our destination, as a Christian community, as Christian people, is a God-pleasing, Christ-honoring, Scripture-shaped mind and world-view we cannot arrive there by starting with ourselves, our own biases, and our own sin! When we start there, what we do is try to make God fit our own self-centered understanding and beliefs. As 5th Century BC Greek philosopher, Xenophanes, once pointed out: “We create God in our own image,” rather than allow God to recreate us into His own image.

 

I’ve read that in Europe, the idea that Scripture ought to be the lens through which we see and understand the world is mocked out right. And from watching TV shows and movies made right here in the USA, I believe we see the same thing all the time. If a politician says that she uses the Bible as her guide to decision-making, she is derided as silly and out of touch with reality.

We who believe the Bible are told that we are intolerant of others who don’t. And the result is that those who claim more tolerance are intolerant of folks who trust the Bible.

Have any of you ever felt shunned or ridiculed for wanting to read and believe in the Bible?

 

With that as our introduction to today’s Scripture reading, hear these words from the Apostle Paul to his young pastor friend Timothy, II Timothy 4:1-5 (P. 482). Hear the Word of God …. —-

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the wordbe prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

 

What was Paul’s remedy for the problem of people’s not “starting in the right place” when it comes to addressing life’s challenges? How did Paul confront those who had wandered off looking for teachers who suited their own views?

He charged Timothy to “preach the Word!”

This is obviously not a new thing the church faces! Paul wrote about it 2,000 years ago. 500 years ago Martin Luther wrote: “Scripture alone is the lord and master of all writings and doctrines on earth. If that is not granted, what is Scripture good for? The more we reject it, the more we become satisfied with man’s books and human teachers.”

 

Karl Barth, a theologian from the mid-1900s advised living with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the othernot as equal partners in interpreting life, but so that the Bible could be a lens through which we read the news and understand our current-day lives.

We live in the 21st Century, in Spokane, WA, USA, surrounded by competing truth claims. How do we work to bring the Gospel to bear on our quickly changing culture in ways that speak truth in our culture without becoming lost in the culture?

The temptation is to simply agree with philosophies that seem nonjudgy and warm and welcoming, but do that without telling the whole truth of what it means to know God’s love and live under God’s grace. Paul told Timothy, “The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

 

I read an article this week that quoted Carl F. Henry who said, “No fact of contemporary Western life is more evident than its growing mistrust of final truth and its implacable questioning of any sure word.” This “growing mistrust” is expected in society for the Scriptures tell us as much. But we must not allow it to creep into our hearts and our churches unaware, not as a wedge in our faith dividing us from God’s Word and presence.

When we appear to be godly, loving, caring people, but deny the power of God’s transforming grace, we stopputting up with sound doctrine”. It’s a very slippery slope to simply ignoring God’s Word and “finding teachers that say what our itching ears want to hear.”

 

This means we approach God’s Word with humility and our communities, our neighborhoods, our families, our friends, our co-workers, our classmates, our children with gentleness, love, and kindness. After all, we are all people who have sinned and who continually fall short of the glory of God. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. None of us is better than anyone else. None of us has the right to be judgy. But the truth is that our holy God offers us, through His perfect love and mercy, opportunities to be changed, to be transformed, from guilty sinner to child of God!

 

We find that truth by looking through the proper set of lenses. We find our focus on our destination by seeing it through the written Word of God. If we don’t get there by starting where our society is; Paul reminds us, let’s start where God calls us Home, His Word, and see where that leads usHis presence and power and perfect love and forgiveness.

 

For the next few weeks we’ll look at a few different Bible issues and questions. Last week I challenged you to start reading in Genesis and tell me when anyone makes it past Leviticus. We’ll get lunch together and talk about what we have each found interesting and/or intriguing.

 

May we be constantly and consistently blessed by the reading, the receiving, of God’s Word which always transforms and offers us God’s grace and mercy.

 

Thank You, YHWH God, for the gift of Your Word, written and living and ever applicable to our cultures and our lives, and for the ultimate revealing of Your perfect Word though Jesus Christ; and it is in His name we pray, Amen.

 

Resources:

Parks, Lucas J.; “The Lens of Scripture”; TableTalk; November 2018; Pp. 10-11.

Advertisements

01/06/2019 = Hebrews 2:1-2 = Learning Where to Look: “Where Do We Find God’s Word?”

(Click HERE to LISTEN to this message.)

Mark Wheeler

Hebrews 1:1-2

Learning Where to Look: “Where Do We Find God’s Word?

01/06/2019, Epiphany Sunday

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,           

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Do we have any New Year’s Resolvers in the room this morning? Does anybody still really make New Year’s Resolutions? Today is January 6, show of hands if you’ve already broken your New Year’s Resolution – not to make you feel guilty or bad, but to show you what good company you’re in!

Well, we’re not even a whole week into 2019, so if you haven’t made any Resolutions for this year yet, let me encourage you that it’s not too late. Frankly, it’s NEVER too late! Every morning you wake up is another opportunity to resolve to do better.

I read a stat that 95% of people who Resolve to read the Bible through in a year year fail before they finish Genesis. There’s a BabylonBee article (that’s like a ChristianTheOnion e-zine = that’s like “fake news” that’s meant to be understood as actual “fake news”) that claims “Local Man sets More Realistic Goal of Reading the Bible Until He Gets to Leviticus” (https://babylonbee.com/news/local-man-sets-more-realistic-goal-of-reading-bible-until-he-gets-to-leviticus).

Ima gonna suggest that you can do it. We can all do it. And, if we fall behind, get up the next morning and start back in. You can do it.

 

We start this new year with a look at how we read the Bible, and how the Bible reads us.

Because we live in a world that is filled with competing truth claims, bombarded with tweets and posts about something being true and something else being false, this source being faithful and that source being fake-news, CNN or Fox, we need to re-learn where to look. Where do we find God’s Word?

 

Michael J. Kruger asks, “How do we sift through all the claims? How do people know what to think about relationships, morality, God, the origins of the universe, and many other important questions?

The answer, of course, is that we all either wonder around without a clue, or we rely on some standard off which we bounce all the opposing ideas to see which ones stick. For some that is simply reason and logic. Others appeal to sense experience – what feels right based on personal experience. Others simply say that whatever they say is right, and there is no argument or discussion that can dissuade. And, honestly, there is some level of validity to all of these methods of determining right from wrong – but what if there is some supreme source of standard reliance?

If there is a God – and that is what Christians, what we who are called children of God, claim – and if this God is sovereign, good, all-powerful, all-knowingwould His Word be a reliable, trustworthy standard for weighing other truth claims? If what we say we believe is believable at all, it seems logical and many of us could claim personal experience of this reality, then there really can be no higher authority than God Himself. So, looking for Where we Find God’s Word seems like the appropriate launching place.

 

Of course we, in the 21st century, in the year 2019, are not the first generation to face fighting truth claims. We have, since the beginning of time, had to decipher truth from lies, real news from fake news. Adam and Eve heard some serpentine deceiver say to them: “You will surely not dieimmediately after hearing God tell then the opposite. How could they tell whom to believe? Who was more trustworthy?

Unfortunately, you and I do not live and move and have our being in the midst of the Garden of Eden where we walk with God in anywhere near the same way Adam and Eve’s story claims. So, where do we go to get God’s Word? Where can it be found?

The obvious answer here is …what? The Bible, of course. But this answer has not always been so obvious – and maybe it’s not as obvious even today as we wish it was. This is still one of the biggest points of difference between Roman Catholic Christians and Evangelical (ie, Protestant) Christians. The official RC doctrine teaches a trifold authority structure for finding God’s Word which includes Scripture, and it also includes tradition and (what is called) Magisterium) – the authoritative teaching office of the RC Church, the Papal Ex Cathedra pronouncements.

And while Protestant Churches usually hold to an understanding that God’s Word can be heard and learned through the voices of God’s prophetic choices and preachers and teachers, ultimately their voices must be bounced off the already existent written Word of God – the Bible.

 

Listen to these words from the New Testament book of Hebrews 1:1-2 (P. 486). Hear the Word of God …. —-

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

 

One of the main mantras of the 16th Century Reformation Movement was “Sola Scriptura” – the Scriptures alone are the Word of God, and therefore, the only infallible rule for faith and life. One of Martin Luther’s more famous answers to his ecclesiastical court hearing contained these words: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in the councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. … May God help me. Amen.

For Luther, the Scriptures – and the Scriptures alone – were the final arbiter of what we should believe.

 

Now, let me be quick to add that, while the Scriptures, the Bible, is what we believe is the ultimate Word of God, that does not mean that the Church has no authority or that tradition carries no truth-weight. They absolutely do. There is real history in Church history – good and bad. There can be honest truth spoken through traditions. These are not bad places to look for God’s Word, but they sit under the written Word of God as having been displayed by what the Apostle John calls in his Gospel the “living Word of God in Jesus”.

We would say that the Church  and our historical councils and reflections carry some authority. But not without impunity. The Church has been wrong – about slavery, about race relations, about how we know who is worthy of our love and acceptance. The Church has covered up abuse, wrongly; the Church has unwisely and unrighteously spent money given to it (not us, but, you know, other churches…).

But the Bible, when rightly read, leads us to know the Lord our God through the Christmas gift of the incarnation of His only begotten Son and to live like we believe what we say we believe.

 

So, on this first Sunday of the New Year, on this 12th Day of Christmas, I want to encourage everyone here to Resolve to be closer to God in 2019 than we were in 2018. Invest time in prayer – maybe start with a prayer that you can find your Bible! And maybe commit to reading a bit of Bible every day.  3-1/4 chapters a day, 23 chapters a week, gets us through the whole Bible in a year – that’s less than 3 pages a day, maybe 15-minutes a day.

For the next few weeks we’ll look at a few different Bible issues and questions. And I want to hear when anyone makes it past Leviticus. We’ll get lunch together and talk about what we have each found interesting and/or intriguing.

 

May we be constantly and consistently blessed by the reading, the receiving, of God’s Word which always transforms and offers us God’s grace and mercy.

 

Thank You, YHWH God, for speaking to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, and for the ultimate revealing of Your perfect Word though Jesus Christ; and it is in His name we pray, Amen.

 

Resources:

Kruger, Michael J.; “Where Is the Word of God”; TableTalk; November 2018.

12/30/2018 = Genesis 32:22-32 = Jacob Wrestles with God: “I Am vs I Do”

(Click HERE if you want to LISTEN to this message.)

Mark Wheeler

Genesis 32:22-32

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS:

Jacob Wrestles with God – I am vs I Do

12/30/18, Flannel Sunday – 09/02/2018

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Anybody here ever order a drink at a Starbuck’s (or, really ANY coffee place), and when they ask your name so they can write it on your order – they get it really wrong? And while there may be several ways to misspell your name correctly (how many ways are there to spell “Caitlin”?), here are a few classics from Starbuck’s:

= Air Inn   =  Erin       

= Angry     =  Ingrid    

= Wong     =  Juan      

= Auntie    =  Andie     

= Fibi        =  Phoebe  

= A-Me      =  Amy       

= Missle     =  Michelle

= Panellipie  =  Penelope

= Mad-ah-Lynn  =  Madeline

Marc (with a C) = Cark

 

Fortunately, our identities are not defined by misspelled names on coffee cupsnor are we defined by what we do – what we do gives shape to our identity, but it does not define it out right.

 

In our this Sermon Series from last Summer and Fall  we looked at some of our favorite VBS and Sunday School lessonsfavorite Bible stories, or stories that we’ve always wondered about or had questions about. Today we read about a man who discovers his identity in a very peculiar way.

 

In this series we have read the stories of Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, and a few Abraham and Isaac and Jacob stories.

I invite you to turn with me today, and to listen to, Genesis 32:22-32. Hear the Word of God …. —-

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”        “Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob (Jacob means “one who lies, deceives, cheats, tricks, to get what he wants”), but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome (Israel means “struggles/wrestles with God”).”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”    But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel (“God’s face”), saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

 

This is a story about how one who is known for his cheating gets a new identity as one who faces God squarely, even when he struggles to get it right.

It’s not the first time someone in the Bible gets a new name. Abram’s name changed to Abraham, from “high father” to “father of a multitude”; and Sarai became Sarah (“my princess” to “mother of nations”). In the New Testament, Jesus changed Simon’s name (“Hear” or “Listen”) to Peter (“Rock”) and Saul’s name to Paul (“Ask or Inquire” to “Small or Humble”).

None of those names were terrible names to begin with, except maybe Jacobhigh father, princess, listen, ask; but their new identities all define some quality as they relate to Almighty God – as the fulfillment of God’s promises, strength in God, one who find’s God’s strength in his own weakness – and one who wrestles with God! (Last September Johnny helped sing our Special Music and I was so glad when I saw that he was singing that day because he loves wrestling!)

 

What does God do with this good for nuthin, low-down, cheatin, lyin’, birthright thievin’, blessing stealin’, piece of no-good sin-ness? He reminds him that his real identity is found in God!

It’s not that Jacob’s sins don’t have an effect on his future – they do. Life circumstances change the way we live. Joseph, one of Jacob’s 12 sons, is left for dead by his brothers, is sold into slavery, is sexually assaulted, is arrested and convicted when he is innocentall of that carried into his future – but his identity is not in any of his victim statushe is the one who saves the Israelites.

Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, Abednego are all taken captive, accused of treason, and sentenced to death by lions or by fire – but their identity is as God’s chosen.

 

We all carry some kind of hardship, choices we’ve made, terrible things that have happened to us, or simply the adversities of life.

Jacob had acted in terrible ways. But, God called him His own.

Have you done things that make you think you’re not good enough for God’s love?

Are you a survivor of sexual assault?

Are their drug abuses in your life?

Have chronic or terminal diseases stolen your health and well- being?

Do you feel like a loser because you aren’t as successful as someone else? (I am a little embarrassed to admit here that this is one of my personal feelings of unworthiness – I thought I would pastor a church of several hundred by this time in my life…..)

 

Friends, you are not the loser you feel like; you are more than just the cancer or Diabetes or Chrones that gives you turmoil; you are not just the drugs in your system or the money in your bank; your identity is not in your #MeToo hurts and fears; your bad choices, sad choices, sin choices, while they may lead you down some dark alleys and difficult life places, they do not define your identityyou are a Child of God.

After 60 years of marriage – after 6 days of marriage – becoming a widow, pained, lonely, lost = is not your identity. Being divorced, or never married = is not your identity.

After 40 years of work – reaching retirement = does not define your identity.

Being laid off, unemployed, without a paycheck or an address = is not your identity.

 

On the positive sides, working as a nurse, being in charge of linemen, serving customers, teaching students, overseeing operations, managing an office, handling transportation means … = is not your identity.

 

These are things we do. These are things that happen to us. But, as followers of Jesus Christ, as disciples in the Kingdom of God, as people called by God and filled with the Holy Spirit = we are Children of the Living God! You are a Daughter of the King, a Son of the Almighty!

Because of that, in Christ Jesus, we can endure all things and live in the power of the Almighty!

 

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

 

Whenever I go to a place that asks my name to call when my order is ready, I often do one of two things – give them the name of the person in our group whose name is the hardest to spell (or which might have the most variant spellings), or I give them the same name as the person just ahead of me in line (I guess that’s Identity Theft…). My identity is not defined by how the barista spells my name – And to that end, even our Starbuck’s baristas aren’t identified by their terrible spelling errors. Are you a Child of God? Rest in that everlasting identity, that unstealably secure identity, written in the Book of Life!

 

Thank You, YHWH God, for claiming us with the cross; for inviting us to call You our Heavenly Father; for adopting us as Your very own children. You call us Your own, and we want to anchor our lives into that identity, always. Thank You for Jesus; in His name we pray, Amen.

 

Resources:

https://www.thrillist.com/drink/nation/starbucks-spelling-tumblr-23-hilariously-misspelled-names-on-starbucks-coffee-cups

 

12/24/2018 = Luke 2:1-20 = “We Need a Silent Night Again”

Mark Wheeler

Luke 2:1-20

“We Need That Silent Night Again!”

12/24/2018, Christmas Eve

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Johnny read that “While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.”(2:6)

 

There is something about Christmas Eve. It is hard to describe what that “something” is, and it’s different, to be sure, for everyone. The older we are and the more memories we accumulate, the more complex the feeling becomes. Perhaps the tendency for reflection upon one’s life and the presence or absence of loved ones on this night is why we love to hear “all is calm, all is bright.”

On this night we remember the promise of God–that God would be “Emmanuel”, God-with-us forever more.

 

On this night, we hear the story which we have been visiting throughout Advent, and we finally sing the whole “Silent Night” song. We have experienced and sung about Peace, Joy, Love, and Hope – heavenly peace, glories streaming from heaven afar, love’s pure light, and the hope that arrives as we claim that Christ our Savior is born!

Tonight’s sermon is short, because the message is completely in the story Johnny and Linda read, what Linus Van Pelt calls the “true meaning of Christmas”. So in just a few minutes, I invite anyone here to share a new Christmas insight, a renewed sense of faith, a transformed perspective, based on Luke 2, and/or our Advent theme of Silent Night, Calm and Bright.

 

And to whet your memories and your imaginations, I will close with these commentary notes on this manger-narrative in Luke’s Gospel:

“The genius of Luke’s story, of course, is that he portrays all this through the simple, sympathetic, and even everyday characters of a young mother and common shepherds.

If God can work in and through such ordinary characters, we are bid to wonder, perhaps God can also work in and through us. Luke wants, I think, to make sure we realize that it is not just human flesh ‘in general’ that God takes on in Christ; it is our flesh. And it is not simply history ‘in general’ that God enters via this birth, it is our history and our very lives to which God is committed.

“So if there is only one thing that our people hear this Christmas Eve, perhaps it should be that this story of long ago is not only about angels and shepherds, a mother and her newborn. It is also about us, all of us gathered amid the candles and readings, carols and prayers. God came at Christmas for us, that we might have hope and courage amid the dark and dangerous times and places of our lives. This, in the end, is why we gather, so that as God entered into time and history so long ago through the Word made flesh, God might also enter our lives even now through the Word proclaimed in Scripture, song, and sermon. No wonder we grow quiet!”

 

Luke’s literary masterpiece is ‘the Christmas Gospel’ even in secular minds and hearts far from God. The children, candlelight, and carols reach into lives troubled with pain and despair, offering the incredible promise of hope to people who may show up only once a year.

“How can this promise be trusted in a world that is lonely and unforgiving? Herod’s murderous response in Matthew to Jesus’ birth may be more credible to people hardened by harsh political realities, ancient and modern. But the wonder of the Christmas Gospel is not mere sentiment. ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ is a testimony to a divine mercy ready to pay the price of rejection and death. The little town of Bethlehem lies still before our eyes, but as Philip Brooks wrote [that] hymn, he knew: ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’ How can the strong, gentle truth be told?”

 

:

:

:

 

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

 

God of Silent, Holy nights, help us to experience the calm, bright glow of Your presence that we might know heavenly peace. Tonight, as we proclaim that Christ the Savior is born, may Your glories stream into our lives. As we gather in the Son of God’s love’s pure light, basking in the dawn if redeeming grace, we receive Jesus, Lord at His birth. Christ, our Savior, is born. Christ, our Savior, is born. Amen.

 

Resources:

McFee, Marcia; www.worshipdesignstudio.com

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

(Click HERE for an audio version of this message.)

Mark Wheeler

John 1:1-5, 14-18

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

12/16/2018, 3rd Sunday of Advent

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                

 

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

. Our Advent Candle Lighters reminded us that:

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Silent night, holy night!

Son of God, love’s pure light,

Radiant beams from Thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,

Jesus, Lord at Thy birth

 

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

 

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

 

Resources:

McFee, Marcia; www.worshipdesignstudio.com

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

(Click HERE for an AUDIO link to this message)

Mark Wheeler

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

“Light Shines into Darkness”

12/09/2018, 2nd Sunday of Advent

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Silent night, holy night!

Shepherds quake at the sight,

Glories stream from heaven afar,

Heavenly hosts sing “Alleluia“!

Christ, the Savior is born,

Christ, the Savior is born

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Psalm 86:9-11 (NIV)

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

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

 

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

 

Resources:

McFee, Marcia; www.worshipdesignstudio.com

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

(Click HERE to listen to this message.)

Mark Wheeler

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

“God’s Peace in Our Chaos”

12/02/2018, 1st Sunday of Advent

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Script

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[the host of the television broadcast continues…]

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

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

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

[end script]

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Resources:

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

 

McFee, Marcia; www.worshipdesignstudio.com

 

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