Pastor’s Weekly Reflections

March 29, 2020
Sermon: “It’s Time to Start Believing What We Believe”
Scripture: John 11: 1-45

Have you ever had a day when everything started out wrong? And no matter what you did you were unable to restart your day in a positive manner? Well I have compiled a short list of warning signs for you that will tell you that you might have a bad day ahead.
You know it’s going to be a bad day when:
1. You get pulled over by the police and you haven’t even left your own driveway.
2. Or, your birthday cake collapses from the weight of the candles.
4. You know it’s going to be a bad day when, the blind date you had anxiously been awaiting turns out to be your sister.
6. Last but not least, you know it’s going to be a bad day when you wake up to discover that your waterbed broke, and then you remember you own a waterbed.
When Jesus was present on this earth, even He had bad days. And today’s scripture lesson is about one of those bad day’s for Jesus. In our scripture lesson today, a man named Lazarus was sick, and he was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Jesus knew this family well. You may recall that Jesus had dinner with them in their home, when Mary had poured perfume on Jesus feet and wiped them dry with her hair. They had a special relationship and had spent time together. I guess you could say they were intimate friends. It is only natural that Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. Now keep in mind that they didn’t explicitly ask Jesus to come and help. Perhaps they thought Jesus would automatically come out of his love for Lazarus and when he heard Lazarus was sick.
In any event, according to day’s scripture it is clear Mary and Martha expected Jesus to come to where they were and heal Lazarus. But for some strange reason, Jesus waits four days and Lazarus dies. So why did Jesus wait four days?

In the Jewish tradition, of that time, people believed that the soul resided in the vicinity of the body of a deceased person for three days. They believed the soul was hoping to rejoin the body. But, after four days, the soul gave up and departed, because there was no more hope for reconnection to the body. The fact that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days meant that there was no possibility of his soul rejoining his body.
At this stage, Martha has already witnessed her brother’s death, prepared his body for burial, placed him in a tomb and sat with for him for two days. There is no way that Martha’s belief in Jesus’ healing powers, her faith in his restorative capabilities, could not be mixed with a healthy dose of doubt. Martha has stared death right in the face. But when confronted with this crisis, it is Martha’s belief that sends her running to meet Jesus before he could even reach the boundaries of Bethany.
Martha believed Jesus could have saved Lazarus. Her voice trembles with disappointment when she says to Jesus, “why didn’t you come and healed Lazarus? Jesus, we trusted you, we believed in you and now my brother Lazarus, the one you said you loved is dead.”
Martha did not even realize the depth of her convictions. Not until she stands before Jesus and hears his messianic confession – Jesus says to her “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” And now Martha realizes that this is indeed what she believes. When push comes to shove, when it was a matter of life and death, Martha believed.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet. She is weeping, not just crying, it is an uncontrolled, unrestrained wailing and shrieking. From the Jewish point of view the more unrestrained the weeping the more honor is paid to the dead. You can still see this in some cultures today. Mary also says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” And, Jesus wept. Jesus wept because of the death of his friend, but even more so, Jesus wept because he saw the pain that Lazarus’ death causes his sisters.
I believe that in our darkness moments, in the depth of our own personal pain and suffering, Jesus comes to us and shares in that pain and suffering. Our God is not an impersonal God – a God who does not care – who is distant and separate from us.
God is the companion of the broken hearted.
God is the great counselor.
God is the one who brings good from the ruins of life.
And He is the God that even in the midst of our tragedy is in control.
And here is the remarkable thing, Jesus knew what was about to happen. He knew Lazarus was going to die. He knew that there was going to be pain and anguish for Martha and Mary. And He knew that Lazarus illness was for God’s Glory.
So, what does all this mean? It means that Lazarus’ illness, and Lazarus’ death provided an opportunity for people to see the presence of God in their midst. I am not saying that God killed Lazarus or made him ill. But that God allowed it to happen so that this event will be a witness to God’s power, and for us to experience God’s love. It means that even in the tough times of our lives, in the times when we think God has all but deserted us, in the times when it seems as if four days have passed and there is no hope. Don’t ever give up on God.
Do you remember the TV show Get Smart? In the show, secret agent Maxwell Smart would always come up against a bad guy from whom he had to escape. Smart would try to intimidate his foe by scaring him off with some hopelessly transparent exaggeration: Smart would say, “Right now, there are 50 armed police officers surrounding this place.” When the adversary doubted him, Smart would counter with: “Would you believe 20 police officers and an angry dog?” With the crook still not impressed, Smart would finally suggest: “How about a troop of Girl Scouts on a cookie-sale drive?” How many of us are willing to put what we believe on a similar sliding scale like Maxwell Smart?
When we were young, we were able to believe almost anything we were told. Our parents, our teachers were always sources of truth and integrity. If any one of them told us something, it must be true. But when we grew older and more “sophisticated” in our thoughts, we learned to stop believing things simply because an authority figure told us it was true. And that can be good. But, for too many of us, the entire concept of believing in God can eventually erode completely away. If I can’t see it, taste it, touch it, or smell it, then it can’t be real, so we stop believing.
We can stop believing:
About God’s active involvement in the life of Israel,
About God’s new covenant in the person of Jesus Christ.
About the place of Jesus in history.
And, about the relevance, and the authority of the Bible itself in our 21st century world.
Jesus had a difficult time convincing some people that God was alive and well and still at work in the world. The story of Lazarus is another attempt by Jesus to convince the Jews that God is not an absentee God. That God is real and is always active in our lives. Yes, we may go four days without seeing God at work in our lives but that does not mean that God is absent.

What is standing in the way of you saying yes, I believe? Is it your friends, family, or coworkers? Did you read an article that says if God didn’t exist humans would make one up just so we can have someone to blame for all our problems instead of taking responsibility for our own actions? Or, is there something you saw on the internet that is trying to convince you that God is not real, and Jesus is a myth?
Yes, the Bible is full of extravagant promises. The Bible says the same spirit that worked wonders at Pentecost dwells in you today? The Bible says you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you? The Bible says the resurrection power that raised Lazarus from the dead can be at work in you today if you want it to.

Your challenge for this week is simply this; are you ready to open your eyes, are you ready to change your hearts and minds and believe in the God that raised Lazarus form the dead? Amen

March 22, 2020

Sermon: Spiritual Blindness
Scripture: John 9:1-41

In today’s world it’s so easy to get caught up in our selfish pursuits that we become blind to what is going on around us. We can become blind to the needs to our family and friends. We can become blind to what is going on in our community and in our country. And if we don’t wake up, we can become so laser focused on ourselves that we don’t want to wake up. We simply keep our heads down; live our lives and we want to be left alone. When this willful blindness to our surroundings occur, we can develop Spiritual blindness as well. Spiritual blindness is going through the motions in life. Yes, we go to church, we volunteer, but we become spiritually disconnected from God, spiritually disconnected from the other people in our lives, and we become spiritually disconnected from ourselves. When this happens, we are susceptible to influence from outside sources that usually do not have our best interest in mind. In other words, if you walk around spiritually blind you will slowly drift away from God and from yourself. And now without God in your heart your ego takes over. You become ridged, selfish and like the Pharisees in our story today, you become accustomed to walking around in the dark.
One of the goals of Jesus’ ministry was to awaken people from their spiritual blindness and when called upon He would heal them of their physical blindness. In today’s scripture, we see Jesus healing a man’s physical blindness, and in the process, we discover the spiritual blindness of some of those watching the miracle.
The story begins with Jesus and his disciples encountering a man who’s been blind from birth. The disciples look at this man and what do they see? Do they see a man in need of healing? No, they don’t. They’re blind to his pain. They ask “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” The disciples totally ignore this man’s problem. They are more interested in theology than compassion. But then, Jesus turns the tables on them and immediately points out their own blindness. Jesus says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. The disciple’s assumptions have blinded them to the possibilities of the situation. Their understanding of the man’s blindness is in fact no different from that of the Pharisees.

In ancient times everything in their world consisted of cause and effect and todays scripture is no different for the disciples. So then illnesses must be the result of God’s judgement regarding sin. Whether it’s the person’s sin or his parents doesn’t matter. Clearly sin must be involved for this man to be born blind. But Jesus blows that idea out of the water. He says God’s intentions with this man’s blindness are that God’s works might be revealed in him. There’s nothing sinister about this illness. There’s no sense of revenge, on God’s part, associated with it. In this case, God is going to use this man’s illness to reveal his glory.
Jesus always knows what to do. He spits on the ground, makes some mud and uses it as a salve for the man’s eyes. Then He sends him off to the pool to wash and then he comes back able to see. As you might expect, this causes something of a disturbance in the crowd.
The people gathered that day have known this guy all his life. He’s been blind since birth and now he can see. And so, people want to know how it happened. Who did this? They ask the man, are you really the man we know who’s been a beggar all his life? The formally blind man he assures them that he is the same man, and that Jesus has done this miraculous thing.
If this happened today, we’d be taking the man to an eye specialist to check what’s happened. Was he blind? What’s happened to his eyes that he can now see? The people in today’s scripture don’t take him to the doctor; they take him to the Pharisees. They think there’s something supernatural going on here and they want the religious experts’ opinion. And here’s where we see spiritual blindness come to the forefront.
The Pharisees of course know all about Jesus, they’ve already reached their conclusions about him, and it doesn’t take long for them to discover that he’s been up to his old tricks again; healing on the Sabbath.
What’s the Pharisees verdict regarding this situation? They can’t deny the reality of the miracle. The man can clearly see the mans has been healed, though they do their best to find a loophole by suggesting that maybe he wasn’t blind to begin with. But no, it’s established that he was blind and has been healed. So, they put their heads together and begin to make a judgement about what’s happened. The Pharisees say, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” He can’t be from God if he doesn’t follow the law. And we begin to see how their traditions, their old interpretations of the law, their ridged lifestyle, and their egos blind them to reality.
What do the Pharisees do? They fall back on what they know by saying, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man responds in amazement, he says, “Here is an astonishing thing. You do not know where he (meaning Jesus) comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. “Since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

The reality of Jesus’ origins is blatantly clear to this man, yet the Pharisees refuse to acknowledge it. Faced by this snub from an ignorant peasant they return to their traditions. The Pharisees respond to the man by saying, “You were born entirely in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Like the disciples, they are confident that blindness is the judgement of God regarding sin, so they can dismiss everything the man says because obviously he was born in sin.
Here we have a man who was blind but now can see. A man whose ability to see clearly goes beyond the physical to the spiritual, while those who are meant to be the spiritual guides of Israel are shown to be spiritually blind. That’s not the end of the story. Jesus goes looking for the man and when he finds him, he asks him, not whether his eyesight is better, but whether he believes in the Son of Man.
We can see the discovery the formally blind man has made made. Jesus is the Son of Man, the one who in Daniel 7 is given all authority and dominion, who in John’s gospel is the one who will be lifted up, and who will judge all the earth. Not only does this man acknowledge that the son of man exists but he also puts his trust in him. The response of the man is to not only acknowledge his belief in Jesus, but to worship him. His eyes have been opened to the whole reality of who Jesus is.
Jesus’ response is to say: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees who are listening realize that Jesus is talking about them. They ask whether he’s accusing them of being blind. Jesus reply is puzzling: “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” They are blind in fact, but their claim to be able to see establishes their fault. The passage from John 3:19-20 says: “this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” The Pharisees claimed to be able to see, but when the light of Christ they appeared in their midst they became confused and ran from it. Jesus’ very presence among them blinded them to the things they should be able to see, even as Jesus opened the eyes of others who perhaps didn’t have the enlightenment of the learned Pharisees.
So, how is our spiritual vision? Are you open to seeing God at work in every circumstance or are you narrow-minded by your theological or professional or rational assumptions? Or, is your vision clouded by the various traumas of life you have experienced.
There are many people in our world who are so convinced by a rationalist scientific worldview that they refuse to admit the possibility of miracles, either today, or even in Jesus’ time.
So, they argue away the miracles of Jesus, perhaps even more strongly than the Pharisees did. Ignoring the miracles of Jesus is to blind ourselves to the possibility that God might indeed intervene in our world. And then we shut our eyes to what God is doing around us. Similarly, there are those who have been so hurt by events, or people, in their past that they can’t acknowledge the possibility that God might be doing something good.
Conversely, many of us have inherited a theology that expects that God will bless us in everything we do, so when tragedy happens, we’re confused, even disillusioned about our Christian faith. The danger with this way of thinking is that we judge from a standard we have created rather than from reality. We judge from what we’ve heard from others, or from what we’ve worked out by ourselves, rather than letting the facts speak for themselves.
That’s the contrast in today’s passage. The Pharisees looked at what had happened and got out their play book to help them pass judgement. While the man that was healed looked at what had happened and let the facts speak for themselves.
And what was the result? Judgement was passed, but it wasn’t the judgement that the Pharisees had in mind. The judgement that was passed was that those who had eyes to see saw the miracle, while those whose eyes were blind to the reality of Jesus’ work, had their blindness made clear for all to see. The only people that reminded blind were the Pharisees. They simply couldn’t comprehend that God was at work that day just like he was at work at the time of Moses.
Are you looking to see God at work in the world? Are you pointing out those works of God to others so they can see too? Think about these words of Jesus, He says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” These are words for us today as well as to the disciples. When God shines his light on the world we need to be ready to point out how God is at work in people’s lives, so we can give him the glory, and so we can bring people from spiritual blindness to spiritual sight.
Ask yourselves these questions: Do we let outside influences dictate our spirituality? Have we become so set in our ways, so frightened of life that we are willfully blind? Have we become spiritually disconnected from God, spiritually disconnected from the other people in our lives, and have we become spiritually disconnected from ourselves?
If you can honestly answer yes to these questions. Wouldn’t today be a good day to reconnect to God? Wouldn’t today be a good day to open your eyes to the world and what’s going on around us? And wouldn’t today be a good day to say no to spiritual blindness and to the darkness that infects our world, and say yes to spiritual power of God and the eternal light of Jesus? Amen.

Prayer for John 9

Heavenly Father, we thank you for sending your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to be the Bread of Life for the world. Forgive us for elevating earthly appetites above devotion to you. Feed us with the knowledge of Christ so that we recognize our sin and gladly repent in his name.

God, we pray for those whose daily need for healthy food, clean water and proper shelter goes un-met, and for those misusing what they have in the vain pursuit of pleasure. Forgive those that horde food and supplies instead of giving to others. Feed them with all the good things of Christ for life now and in eternity. Have mercy on those whose lives have been broken by violence and crime and disease. Feed them with hope and a new life in Christ.

God, we pray for all those infected with the corona virus. We pray that you inspire the medical professionals to create a vaccine as soon as possible. Be with those that have lost loved ones to this virus. And strengthen the doctors and nurses that care for the sick and hurting.

Today God, we pray for all those that are spiritually blind; for all those that are lost and seeking fulfillment in their lives. Help us to be the ones that reach out the lost and to the lonely. Help us, as the body of Christ to be your light of hope in our broken world.

March 15, 2020

Sermon: “The Living Water”
Scripture: John 4: 1-26

Have you ever been thirsty? I mean really thirsty. The kind of thirst that drinking glass after glass of water can’t quench. I remember as a child running and playing at outside at school and then I would come inside and be so thirsty that all the water in the water fountain could not satisfy me.
Jesus grew up knowing all about the importance of water. Growing up in the rocky, dry land of Israel, he knew firsthand that water was a precious resource that didn’t come easily. He must have grown up seeing his mother and countless other women spend hours of their days hauling water for cooking, cleaning and drinking.

Did you know that 1 pint of water weighs 1 pound, so a 5-gallon bucket and weight 40 pounds. A woman during the time of Christ would have to haul buckets of water from the well to her home several times every day to meet the demands of a large family and busy household. So, when Jesus encounters the lone Samaritan woman, at the well, in the hot noonday sun, he could appreciate the hard work that was required to draw enough water from the well to meet the needs of her family.

When Jesus encounters the woman at the well, he’s hot and tired from his journey. And, he knows exactly what he needs to ease his thirst; he says to the Samaritan woman, “Give me a drink.” It’s a touching, vulnerable moment, one of the very few times that we hear Jesus make a request of another person. He needs something that she can provide for him. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that he’s the Son of God, the Savior of the world, or a Jew encountering someone from the ethnically ridiculed Samaritans. All the barriers and differences like gender and nationality that might divide them, fall away. Because, at this moment, Jesus is simply a person with a basic human need, and this woman can help him.

Jesus, of course, is never simply a “taker”; he hasn’t come into her life simply to demand something that he needs. Jesus is experiencing the discomfort of thirst, but he knows that the woman at the well is carrying a far heavier burden. He’s prepared to give her much more than a simple cup of water. He’s going to offer her something that Coke, Pepsi, and Perrier water cannot offer. He will offer her water that will remove her spiritual thirst forever. Jesus knows exactly who this woman is, and he can see the painful secrets of her heart. And Jesus recognizes her thirst for forgiveness and acceptance.

And because Jesus knows her heart, she doesn’t even have to voice her request. Jesus says, “I can give you living water,” the water that can heal your spirit and ease the pain in your heart. But this woman is so consumed with the burden of hauling endless buckets of water that she can’t grasp the magnitude of what Jesus is offering. She’s simply eager to find a way to avoid this back-breaking drudgery that defines her life. When Jesus tells her that he has water that will forever cure her thirst, she eagerly replies, Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty. Jesus is offering to open eternity to her, but she is focused on making fewer trips to the village well.
How often are we ready to settle for less than what God wants to offer us? How often are we willing to accept mediocrity instead of the fullness of a life centered in Christ? How often do we hesitate to ask for anything from this generous God who’s prepared to let love and blessing and forgiveness flow over us like a never- ending stream?
There’s no way the woman at the well could comprehend or could visualize how refreshing this water is. Jesus isn’t suggesting a better way to do her chores. He’s not proposing to create a better work environment for her. What he is offering is to ease the burden of her troubled soul and release her from the pain of guilt. This woman has been married multiple times and is living with a past that makes her an outcast in her own village. Even worse, for that time and culture, she’s now living with a man who’s not her husband. She carries with her the pain of guilt, shame and rejection and that’s a far heavier burden than the water that she hauls every day.

Jesus doesn’t want to help her with the burden of carrying water; he wants to ease the burden of her heart. He wants to remove the pain of isolation and disgrace that she and her community has placed upon her. So, Jesus shows this woman why he has come to the well. He wants to offer the gift of God’s life-giving Spirit. He wants to offer her the water that is eternal life to God’s people. Just as the Samaritan woman has exactly the water that Jesus needs in that moment. He has precisely what she needs as well, even if she doesn’t know it. Jesus offers her grace and forgiveness and the promise of new life.
Jesus tells her that he is the Messiah, the One that they have all been waiting and hoping for.
We hear him tell her the good news in verses 24-25, Jesus says “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” That’s what Jesus offers this tired, burdened woman. He offers her a chance to be transformed. She can be washed clean with one drink of the water he’s offering her.

In today’s scripture, we get the sense that this woman is street smart. She’s probably had to scratch and claw to get what she has in life. And here she is talking to a strange man, and she is a bit sassy about it.

She’s also is a person of dubious reputation. So, when she finally understands what’s being offered, she grabs this knowledge and rejoices. But this woman is also generous. She wants to share this gift of new life and hope with everyone she knows. It’s possible that this woman has even been an outcast in her own village because of her misdeeds and guilty past. But that’s all behind her now. She takes this living water, given to her by Jesus, and she runs back to her village to tell others the good news. She eagerly approaches everyone that she sees and says with wonder, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done. He cannot be the Messiah, can he? Then they all left the city and were on their way to meet him”
We all know that water for us humans is necessary for our survival. What we don’t often consider, or can take for granted, is how necessary for our spiritual survival is the living water Jesus offers through the Holy Spirit.

So, what do we thirst for today? Do we thirst for someone who knows us as completely as Jesus does, and yet loves us anyway? Do we thirst for the forgiveness and new life that God alone can offer? Do we thirst for a fresh start? A Renewal? A reset? Or are we searching for Peace of mind? Are we thirsty to acknowledge the mistakes that we have made, and know that there is still hope for us? All of that and more is offered to us in the living water Jesus offers us today.
Living Water; sort of sounds like a brand of bottled water you might find a store. But this Living Water reaches a need far deeper than everyday thirst. The Living Water of Christ touches the part of us that wakes up in the night worried or lonely or consumed with remorse. The Living Water of Christ can wash away the parts of us that feel unclean and threaten to keep us isolated form God forever.
Today, Jesus is offering us a chance to be transformed. We can be washed clean with one drink of the water he’s offering us. All our sorrows, our burdens, our need to live life alone, our need to seek fulfillment through other means can all be washed away today by the life-giving water of Christ Jesus. It’s simply up to us to change our hearts and minds and turn from our sinful past and accept this gracious offer given to us all from our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus. Amen

March 8, 2020

Sermon: “Starting Over with Jesus”
Scripture: John 3:1-21

A temporary employment agency in Washington DC began offering a $100 bonus to the employee who makes the biggest mistake of the month. They won’t get a reprimand. They won’t get demoted. They will receive a $100 bonus. Also, I read about an executive who thought he was getting a great deal on a shipment of belts, so he acted quickly and bought a whole warehouse full. Only later did he discover that what he bought was not manufacturing belts for the conveyor system at the factory, but a bunch of those three-inch-wide paisley belts from the 1960s. Instead of getting fired, he was awarded a bronze plaque that proudly commemorated the “Worst Buy of the Year.”
When I read these stories, I had two reactions. My first was: Are these businesses nuts? Have they gone crazy, or what? And then my second thought was that maybe I could talk the church council into adopting a similar policy. Perhaps there could be a bonus for the worst sermon of the month. I can always use some extra cash. And best of all, I am guaranteed to win every month.
Seriously though, there’s a strategy behind rewarding mistakes. The president of that temporary employment company explained it this way: He said that, the objective of the exercise is to get people to take risks. An official at the company where the employee got promoted instead of fired for making that terrible purchase put it this way, “If you don’t go up to the plate and swing hard, you’re never going to hit a home run. If you’re not willing to make a mistake, you’re not really trying.” The bottom-line is that risk-taking is the only road to success. And companies are finding that it’s worth rewarding a few mistakes along the way if it encourages their people to take the risks that can bring in huge rewards. And the same is true for people of faith.
How much faith does it take to follow Christ? How much risk are we willing to take? That’s the heart of the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus. That’s what Jesus meant when he said you must be reborn. Because birth is an inherently risky procedure. And if you don’t believe that, ask any mom about how risky birth can be.
With that in mind, Jesus tells Nicodemus that being part of the kingdom of God requires the same. Jesus tells Nicodemus that following God takes commitment. And that being part of the kingdom of God demands giving all that we have. Remember what Jesus said? “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the kingdom of God.” In other words, no one can be a follower of God unless he is willing to take a risk. No one can be part of the kingdom of God unless they are ready for commitment. And, we must be willing to let go of our old life, and trust in God for a new birth.
“You must be born again” is the way Jesus put it. In other words, you must take the risk to start again. For taking risks is the only way we grow — not only in business, but in our personal and spiritual life, as well. Either we take a reasonable risk and expand the horizons of our life, or we become stagnant and, in the end, live a life of regret. When people over the age of 95 are asked what changes, they would make if they could live their life over again, one of the top three responses they always give is that they would take more risks. But you don’t have to be 95 to look back on life and wish you’d been more of a risk-taker. Think back to high school days. Don’t you wish you had taken the risk to try out for the school play or the cheerleading squad or the football team? When you look back on some of your friendships, don’t you wish you’d taken the risk of being more honest and open with the people you love?
Many of us can look back on businesses or investments or personal ventures and wish we’d hadn’t played it so safe at the time. No one can go back in time to seize lost opportunities. No one can live life again. But we can go forward. We can take the risk of trusting Christ. We can look to God to lead. So, let’s take a moment today and look at what risk is all about, and why spiritual risks are well worth taking.
First, of all what is risk? Well, risk is simply the ability to stretch beyond the usual limits in reaching for a goal. Risk involves facing a fear and chancing failure. Maybe it’s the fear of the unknown, the uncomfortable, the unacquainted. Or, maybe it’s the fear of physical harm or emotional hurt. Whatever it is, risk always involves adventure. When we face our fears and take a risk that’s when we experience the thrill of following Jesus. Because faith and risk are intertwined. It is only when we stretch the horizons of our lives, it is only when we venture away from the comfortable to follow Christ… that faith takes on a new true dimension. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell Nicodemus. You must be born again. You must risk a new beginning. You must trust yourself to a new birth in God to truly be part of the kingdom of God. As long as you hold on to the old way of living, as long as you are afraid to follow Christ, as long as you are unwilling to risk your life for God, you will not be part of God’s great adventure.
And that great spiritual adventure is all around us. For instance, when we follow God’s teachings on honesty despite the fear of what it may cost us, that’s spiritual adventure. When we ask God to open doors for us to make a difference in the lives of others around us despite our fear of where that may lead us, that’s spiritual adventure. When we talk to someone about our faith, in spite of our fear of what they may think of us, that’s spiritual adventure.
Those are the times when we leave the smooth, paved road, and when we abandon the boring residential streets for the adventure of unmarked trails that’s when faith becomes real, and that’s the new birth that Jesus is promising us. Faith means being born again as a new person, leaving the comfortable behind and joining God on a new adventure.
Brothers and Sisters, God asks us to be risk-takers for Christ. God calls us to follow Jesus on paths that are unknown. And, God invites us to venture forth in faith beyond the ordinary and mundane.

How much faith does it take to follow Christ? In Matthew 17, verse 20, Jesus answers that question. He says, “If you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain: Move from here to there, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” The question is not how much faith it takes to follow Christ; it’s whether we will use the faith we have. It is whether we will put our faith into practice and adventure forth with God.
The Bible says in Hebrews 11:6 that “God rewards those who seek him.” Rewards come to those who take the risk of faith. Adventure awaits those who decide to follow. And, a new life is ours when we consent to being born again. But the first step begins with us. We must take the risk.
I have a challenge for you tomorrow, start your morning by offering the prayer that Nicodemus was unable to make. Begin by saying, God, I want to take the adventure of faith with you. I want the new beginning that comes with being born again. I want to get serious about my faith. Use me like you’ve never used me before. This is the kind of prayer that says, I want to be part of the action. This is the kind of prayer that says, I want to grow in my faith. This is the kind of prayer that says, “I want a new birth in my following of Jesus. And, God, I want a new adventure with you.
I’ll admit it’s a risky prayer, and a prayer that God will answer differently for each one of us. For some, it will mean devoting ourselves to beginning a new routine of prayer and deepening our faith through spiritual discipline. For others, it will mean asking God to use us as a blessing in the lives of others, by starting a conversation about values and faith, and helping them to new birth as well. For some, it may mean that God has basic training in mind — that it’s time to get serious about Bible study and building a more solid foundation for our faith. It may mean setting aside some bad habit or being more loving at home.
Friends, this morning’s topic is a risky adventure. Because it really isn’t about how much faith we need to follow Christ, but whether we’ll use the faith we have. When we ask God to use us, God will bring us a new beginning. And, God will give us a new birth.
In conclusion, I want us to consider the alternatives before us today. We can let God give us a new birth in following Jesus. And, we can risk a spiritual adventure with a faith that is alive. Or, we can continue living live as usual, maintaining a non-threatening existence, while holding on to our old ways that are so comfortable and pleasing to us. This is the same choice that Nicodemus faced. And this is the choice that faces each of us. But remember the choice we make determines the life we will live. Here is an example.
There was once a man that looked around and saw people love each other. He saw that love made strenuous demands on them. It required sacrifice and self-denial. It produced arguments and anguish. It involved risk and hurt, and the man decided that love would cost him too much.
He decided not to allow himself to be hurt. The risk was too great. Then the man looked around and saw people striving for great goals. He saw men and women pursuing high ideals, but he saw that the striving was frequently mixed with disappointment and the ideals often carried a great cost. And the man decided that great goals and high ideals were too costly for him. So, he decided that the risk was too great. Finally, the man looked around and saw people serving others. He saw them giving money to the poor and spending time in their care. And he saw that the more they served others, the more they were needed. He saw ungrateful recipients of this care and tired out workers. And he decided not to waste his life with serving those in need. The risk was just too great for him. When the man died, he went up to heaven and was confident God would be pleased. This man’s life was free of the hurt and worries of the world around him. The man said proudly to God, this was my life, safely lived and risk free. And God replied, What life? That’s not the life that I gave you to live. You risked nothing…and you helped no one in need.
So, ask yourselves today. Do I have enough faith to follow Christ? Am I willing to risk everything for Him? And when you are contemplating these questions please remember what Jesus said, He said, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the kingdom of God.” Amen.

March 1, 2020
Sermon: “Temptation is All Around Us”
Scripture: Luke 4:1-13

A man and his wife were shopping at a mall when a young, very attractive woman in a short, form-fitting dress strolled by. The man’s eyes followed her. Without looking up from the item she was examining, his wife asked, “Was it worth all the trouble you’re in?”
Temptation is all around us. You and I are constantly being tempted to buy something new, to not go to school or to work, to eat the foods the doctors told you to stop eating, Or, to watch something on the internet you know you are not supposed to watch. Or, we can be tempted to say something mean or hurtful to someone we don’t like.

The story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert gives us an idea of what real temptation is, and what is keeping us from God. Jesus was tempted in every possible way. And the very things Jesus was tempted with were put there to separate Jesus from God. If Jesus had given in to such temptations, Jesus would have kept himself from being in the relationship with God that they both wanted. You see, Jesus was being tugged in two opposite directions. God was telling Jesus, take my love and compassion and share it with all men and women. Satan was saying to Jesus, use your power to obliterate your enemies, and rule the world by might and power and bloodshed. God said to Jesus, instill a reign of love among the nations of the world. Satan said, “Set up a dictatorship of force.”
If God wants Jesus to become sovereign over the world, then why make things so difficult, why not make it easy for him? Or, why not prove God’s love and God’s rule by a spectacular display of power? This is what the world is whispering in our ears every day. You should go for the power and the fame. You should live for the selfish ego, and love is over-rated. And how often have we given in to such temptations? How often have these temptations separated us from God?

Jesus’ first temptation was to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. Let’s think about all the loaves of bread we’ve let slip into our lives. The obvious parallel is food and drink for nourishment. But there are also those loaves that nourish us like TV, internet, cell phones, or video games.

And we spend our time mindlessly overindulging in our vices as our relationship with Christ slips through the cracks.
Then there is the temptation for power and prestige. Jesus was offered glory and authority over all the kingdoms of the world. But Jesus already had all the power he needed, and he was not interested in prestige. God sent Jesus to fix the earth; not to complement us on how we are running things. If God liked the oppression of the poor, the greed, and the wars; if God was really so impressed with the way the Romans and the Jewish elite had rigged the economy where 10% of the population owned 90% of the wealth, and if God was so impressed with the way us humans were running things, then God would not have needed to send Jesus to save us from the world we had created.
Next, Jesus is tempted to test God. We, too, are pushed to test God in various ways. We selfishly seek things from God that are unreasonable or not always possible. And when God does not supply us with what we want we become angry with God. We soon forget that what we want is not always consistent with what God wants for us.
The temptations that you and I face day by day may be very different from those of Jesus, but they make the same point. Temptations are not simply trying to entice us into doing something we know we are not supposed to do. They are trying to distract us… by keeping us away from the teachings of Christ.
God has great plans for us all, and the enemy will do everything possible to distract us, and keep us, from God’s purpose for our lives. I believe it’s important for us to learn to recognize the voices that whisper attractive lies in our ears… and to be able to distinguish them from the voice of God. Fighting temptation isn’t about putting ourselves down or beating ourselves up in the face of weakness. However, it is about celebrating God’s gift of full humanity… and learning to live into that gift the best way possible. We can have a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Our lives can be filled with such incredible meaning. And we can make a positive difference in this world.
In following Christ, we may not acquire power and prestige, but we are guaranteed true happiness, and true fulfillment, which neither the world, nor the devil can begin to duplicate. But we must keep our eyes on God, and trust God for everything. We must remember our calling to bring God’s Light into this world. And if we can do that, then we are able to say a firm no to the voices that try and lure us back into the darkness—and into misery.
So, this morning I would like for us to look at what temptation is not. Then we will discuss what temptation is. Because when we know what temptation really is, we will be better prepared to face it.

First, temptation is not sin. Too many people go through life feeling guilty because they are tempted. Some people believe if you are tempted to sin, you have already sinned. And no, that’s not true.

Hebrews 4 tells us, for we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
So, does temptation ever come from God? No, it does not. James says, “when tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; however, temptation does test our trust in God.”
Would the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into sin? No, Jesus was tempted to sin, but he did not.
Remember temptation to sin is not sin. And temptation is unavoidable. If that is true, and it is, then what is temptation? Well for temptation to be real, the temptation must be meaningful. We must be open to temptation. And if we’re open to temptation, it’s because the choice before us is a meaningful, real choice. And that means that we have free will. If we didn’t, then our tests would be meaningless as well. If we could not choose to do good, then tempting us with evil is just as meaningless as the idea that Jesus could be tempted to do anything other than good.
Just like Jesus, we are tempted because in our humanity we have free will, we are free to choose we are free to walk down the path of righteousness or the path of wickedness. I also believe temptation can also make us stronger. I know some of you are thinking really. How can temptation make us stronger?
As you resist the temptation you get stronger in your faith in God. Hebrews 2:18 says, because Jesus himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. If Jesus being tempted made him able to understand our temptations, then it makes sense that when we resist temptation… we too will be able to help others with the same temptation?

Some of you may be thinking why God allows Satan to temp us? God allows temptation so we can learn. Every day we have choices to make. Sometimes we make the right choice other times the wrong choice. And then we must deal with the consequences. In other words, temptation is another part of the human condition.
The good news for today is that Lent is another opportunity for deepening our relationship with God. My prayer is that all of us will be able to receive the gift that God is offering us during these special days.
So, what is this special gift of Lent? The special gift of Lent is the gift of Christ. The gift of Christ is here to free us from the temptation of this world. And by freeing us from temptation we will be able to assist Christ in bringing about the Kingdom of God that he so often preaches about. And we get this gift by being open to receiving it by wanting it with all our hearts, and by asking for it over and over again from the loving God who grants us this divine gift.

Now, I need to be clear about one thing. Lent is not a second chance to see if we can keep our New Year’s resolution. But, part of Lent is giving up something that may be harming us. Many of us need to let go of whatever is threatening to take over our lives. This is going to be different for each of us. Some of us are still trying to fill that hole in our chests with too many things, too much food and drink, too much entertainment, too much work, too much alcohol and drugs, or too much shopping, and too much temptation. God does want us to pay attention to our desires. And he wants us to replace superficial desires with our very deepest desires-for love, for compassion, forgiveness, and peace.
Above all, Lent is a time of renewal. This is the time of year that we ask God to help us with the important task of inner renewal. Lent is the promise of a new start for us all, and not a time of discouragement or sorrow. Rather, it is a time when we rejoice that God is a God of refreshment, of new life, and of new beginnings.
Throughout this Lenten season, we should all be looking at the things that are tempting us and then seeking out the gospel message that helps us to overcome them. But as we do, please keep in mind that the very fact that we can be tempted means that we have been freed to do so by a loving God who desires our freedom in order that we might truly be in relationship with Him.

Once again, that does not mean that there won’t be consequences for our choices. Our freedom to choose means that when we choose incorrectly, we must take responsibility for that choice. But none of that changes the fact that in all our choices, we are loved. We are loved by the one who loved us so much that we are set free to choose or reject Christ with all the temptations, all the consequences, and all the blessings that brings.
And today we praise God for the gift of Christ. Because Christ is the one who walks beside us in our times of temptation and struggle, Christ is the one who walks beside us when we find ourselves in our own wilderness, and he is the one that is at our side during our testing and our succeeding in life because he is the source of our power.
Christ gives us the power we need to say no to the temptation of violence, no to the temptation of greed, no to the temptation of judgement, and no to the temptation of excluding someone because they don’t look like us, or think like us, or they don’t dress like us, or they don’t live in the same country as we do, or God forbid they don’t worship like us. Amen

February 26, 2020
Sermon: Ash Wednesday
Scripture: Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21

Today is Ash Wednesday, which means that our celebration of the Lenten season has begun. So, why ashes? Ashes were important in ancient Israel. Ashes would mark times of personal loss and national tragedy. They were an outward sign of inner devastation. And, ashes symbolize what was once a fire that burned bright is now extinguished. In ancient Israel, ashes were a powerful reminder of their sinfulness, mortality, grief, and lack of humility, and I believe for us Christians, humility is a major part of Lent. So, during the season of Lent, we take an inward look at our lives in relation to God and his purpose for our lives. When we speak of Ash Wednesday and Lent, the subject of giving something up is usually a topic of conversation.

So, why give up something for Lent? It’s to remind us of others, who lack what we take for granted. It’s to call us, for a moment, to a life of simplicity. And hopefully, Lent can prompt a modest, but significant, shift in our priorities.
In the gospel reading today Christ is begging us to be humble in our acts of kindness, praying, and fasting because God does not call us to gloat or brag about how good we are. Or how good we think we are. How many times have we thought we were doing the right thing, and loved to tell people about it? It’s seems natural to want approval from others doesn’t it. In today’s scripture, Jesus is telling us be humble. He is telling us to fast, pray, and give to others in secret. Jesus wants us to look at our Christian actions not as something to be bragged about, but something very commonplace that are done without needing the approval of others. No one likes a bragger, and neither does God.
Since humility is a big part of Ash Wednesday and Lent, what does humility mean? A common definition of humility is: the act or posture of lowering oneself in relation to others. However, I don’t like this definition. Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus tell us that we are to be less than or submissive to anyone else. So, when Jesus tells us to be humble, he is not saying to be quiet and timid and bow to the will of others. But He is telling us to get over ourselves and help others without any want, or desire of recognition. In this scripture Jesus is saying that humility has more to do with having a clear perspective on life and respect for one’s place in context to our creator, and to our neighbor. Humility is recognition of the self in relation to God. It is acceptance of one’s defects, and submission to divine grace. By making ourselves humble and by having ashes placed on your forehead this is a way of participating in the call to repentance and reconciliation.

Today we are called to put our self-serving aside and reflect on who we are at the deepest level. Matthew chapter 6 verses 3 and 4 say3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then God, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
The most satisfying giving is that which is done and forgotten. Giving is done in love, and out of response to a need. And when the need is met, the giver goes on about their business, not waiting for, or wanting, any recognition. Whether the person we help is grateful or ungrateful should not matter as far as our own purpose is concerned.
If the recipient is ungrateful, we are sorry for his sake, not our own.
We did our part and that is what matters to God. Matthew 6:3 has often been interpreted to mean that all good works are to be done in absolute secrecy. But true righteousness cannot be kept entirely secret, and should not be.

Earlier in Matthew during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had specifically commanded, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven”. The question is not if our good works should be seen by others, but whether they are done for that reason. When our good works are done in such a way that attention and glory are focused on the recipient rather than on us, God is pleased. But if good works are done self-righteously and hypocritically then are rejected by God. The difference is in our purpose and motivation.

I believe the Lenten season is also a time for us all to take a spiritual inventory. A spiritual inventory can enable us to see if we are being misled by some outside influence, or are we misleading ourselves. Whatever we find during that internal investigation, the purpose is not to discover if we need a scolding or to beat ourselves up, that we need refreshing. This is a time for the kind of prayer where we are honest before God — with all our questions, skepticism, pain, disappointment, and failures.
And we ask God to help us find answers to our question, alleviate our pain, replace disappointment with joy, and help us to realize that we can fail many times before we are successful.

God is not here to scold us, “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and steadfast in love. But God does awaken within us the sense that we need to repent of where we’ve failed to live out our faith.

I will leave you with these final thoughts. As you go about these next 40 days please be humble in your promise to God. Today we come before God, and each other, to recognize that we are mortal and sinful creatures. We humble ourselves by allowing a cross to be formed on our foreheads, saying to the rest of the world that we are in need of God’s grace. The act of having ashes placed on your forehead is a way of participating in the call to repentance and reconciliation. When remembering the words of Christ to be humble, let us then move forward in service and humility as we start the journey of Lent together.

Also, Lent is a very real time where we can once again, in an intentional and disciplined way, seek out the presence of our creator. During this season of Lent, if we give God the opportunity, God will lift us out of our over grown egos. And place us in a position to focus our efforts on God’s grace and the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. By admitting that we are sinners and we want to change, real change will occur. Our eyes will be opened to the truth about exactly who Jesus is, and we will be set free. For us, the sign of ashes is our admission that we are not perfect, but we have come together in the presence of God to change our hearts, our minds, and our lives. Amen.

February 23, 2020

Sermon: “Transfiguration Sunday”

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 3:4-18 and Luke 9:23-36

 

It’s easy to hide from the truth. It’s easy to read the Gospels and simply disregard the parts we don’t like. If something Jesus says makes us feel uncomfortable, we can simply ignore it by telling ourselves that the Gospels were written 2,000 years ago and society has changed since then. So, the archaic words of Jesus don’t really apply to us. And if we don’t take the words of Jesus as the ultimate Truth, then we will not understand exactly who Jesus is.

The first disciples didn’t truly understand who Jesus is even after seeing him transfigured and hearing the voice of God proclaiming the true identity of Jesus. But, it’s not their fault. Everything about Jesus was so revolutionary that comprehending exactly who he is was overwhelming for the first disciples and for us today.

In today’s scripture, the Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus took Peter, James and John to the mountain to pray. This was a brief moment in time when these three disciples had the opportunity to glimpse the divine nature shining through Jesus Christ. They got to see behind the veil of eternity and literally see the brilliance of God’s glory in human form. And they were amazed. So amazed, in fact, that Peter wants to build some shrines to all three men in the vision, but before Jesus can respond, the cloud of God’s presence overshadows thee and speaks to reveal the unique person of Jesus. God says, “This is my Son, my chosen One.”

The voice confirmed the message spoken at Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of his ministry. But here, the voice from the cloud adds “my chosen One and listen to him” to the pronouncement of his son. My chosen One is the Messiah whom the nation of Israel had long awaited. This pronouncement highlights the fact that Jesus is God’s chosen person to bring salvation to His people. And, Jesus was God coming down to humanity in the flesh.

It was after this encounter on the mountain that the Apostle John would call Jesus “the Word became flesh.” And Peter, who was there on the mountain, would write in 2 Pet. 1:16-18, “For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have seen his majestic splendor with our own eyes. And he received honor and glory from God the Father when God’s glorious, majestic voice called down from heaven saying, ‘This is my beloved Son.” We ourselves heard the voice when we were there with him on the holy mountain.”

 

 

Our interactions with others, not only with God, change us because there is no reliable process to unknow, or willfully forget, what we have seen, experienced… or participated in. Through our experiences, we gain knowledge, and knowledge stubbornly refuses to let us remain the same. If we are changed by our everyday interactions with others—how could we not be changed when we come into contact with God, the Holy One whose greatness we have been called to proclaim? In other words, who can see God and remain the same? Who can see God and not be changed forever?

There is a story in the Hebrew Bible of Moses who was called by God to lead the people of Israel out of bondage and into the promised land. Like so many stories in the Bible, the epic of Moses leading the people of Israel through the desert is full of twists and turns, success and failures. Just like us the people of Israel tended to be their own worst enemy. The Israelites continually set up unnecessary obstacles for themselves and allowed themselves to be distracted by lesser gods. The people of Israel had been led out of bondage, but they still needed direction. Not just directions of how far to go in their journey toward the Promised Land. They also needed directions for how to live as a people who had been chosen and called by God to be the light to all nations.

As the people of Israel camped at the base of the mountain Moses went up to receive instruction and to see God. But, when he came down from the Mountain and returned to the people of Israel, he was unaware of how this interaction with God had changed him. He descended the mountain not only with tablets containing the Ten Commandments, but also with his face brightly shining. This was a result of his coming into close proximity with God. Moses was unaware of his changed appearance until he realized that the people were struck with fear by the sight of him. Moses came into contact with God and he was changed. Not only in appearance, but deep down into the core of his being. He had come close to the Holy One. He had seen God, and he had been changed forever.

Over a thousand years later, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth and compared the transformation of Moses on Mount Sinai to the conversion of our mind, when we come to faith in God through trust in Christ. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 3:18, “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit”.

This morning, we are reminded in our Gospel passage of another mountaintop encounter with God. The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus, and a small group of his closest disciples, had slipped away from the crowds to go up to the mountain and pray.

 

Peter, James, and John had already given up everything to follow Jesus. They had heard his teaching, they had asked questions, and they had witnessed the miraculous. Yet it wasn’t until this time and place that their eyes were opened to see Jesus the Christ in his true appearance, accompanied by two of the greatest prophets of their faith. And they heard the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen one; listen to him.” They couldn’t un-see what they had witnessed. Reality had momentarily changed to give them a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. And, they were changed. How could they not be? Like Moses who saw God on the mountaintop, or the people who witnessed the Kingdom of God through the life of Christ on earth we too are changed forever, when we see and encounter God through the Gospels. How could we not be?

The person of Jesus Christ is still unique today. He is still the Messiah. He is still the One sent from God to save us from our sins. He is still God who loves us and calls us to himself. And Jesus stands apart from every other religious leader in history. Even Moses and Elijah, whose presence in this scene represent the Law and the Prophets, they could not fully reveal the true nature of God. The Law, given through Moses, could only point people to God. And Elijah, and the other prophets, could only tell people what God’s great expectations were. But Jesus could show us God, he could allow us to touch God, and to be touched by God. The Law and the Prophets were only partial revelations of God. But here, on the mountain, God was revealing himself fully and finally through his Son, Jesus.

Jesus’ mission is unlike any other mission or religion. Religion has been defined as man’s attempt to reach up to God. But Christianity is defined as God’s attempt to reach down to humanity. And, Christianity is not just a religion. It’s a person. The person… Jesus the Christ by fulfilling his unique mission, beckons us to the cross in order to find forgiveness and reconciliation. But Jesus’ journey did not end at the cross—for on the third day he arose, and gained the victory over death, victory over hell and the grave, and today he sits on the throne with our Father in heaven.

Today’s scripture was a revolutionary message for the three disciples, and it would be a revolutionary message for the Gospel of Luke as well. The message from God was very clear, “You’ve heard the Law, and you’ve heard the prophets, now listen to my Son.” As great as the Law and the Prophets were, they were now secondary to the fullest revelation of God in his Son, Jesus. But what was the message spoken by Jesus? Luke 9:23 says “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.” Jesus came to show us that the way to God is through self-denial and self-sacrifice. He came to show that the way to God is the way of the cross. Self-sacrifice and self-denial are not the only things a disciple needs to hear. We need to always be reminded to “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” A disciple needs to hear “come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest.” A disciple needs to hear “come you that are hungry and eat the bread of life.”

A disciple needs to hear “come, you who are thirsty and drink from the spring of living water.” And a disciple needs to hear “come sinner and find forgiveness.” These are the unique messages of Jesus Christ. And the unique responsibility of a disciple, according to God, is to “listen to him.” We are to listen and to be obedient to everything Jesus says in the Gospels, not just the sayings we like, or the sayings that meet our chosen lifestyle. We are to observe all the teachings of Jesus and we are not to disregard the teachings of Jesus that society says are not true. Or, are out of date in our time of progressive thought and enlightenment.

The Transfiguration is just as revolutionary in the first Century, as it is today. In an age of religious pluralism and multi-culturalism, to claim the unique nature of Jesus Christ as God’s chosen one… is opening yourself to charges of intolerance. In our culture, we have done exactly what Peter attempted to do on the mountain that day. He wanted to build shrines for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Peter wanted to put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. But the voice from heaven would have none of that. The transfiguration reminds us that Jesus transcends all cultures and is called to minister to all humanity as God’s chosen servant. Jesus is the multicultural icon for every generation, and his call is an equal opportunity call.

Think about this: If the greatest need of humanity had been information… God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology… God would have sent a scientist. If our greatest need had been money… God would have sent an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure…. God would have sent an entertainer. But… our greatest need was forgiveness… so God sent us a Savior.

Today, more than ever, our world needs a Savior, and not just another religious figure. The transfiguration is God’s declaration that just such a unique person exists. And that person is Jesus, who is the Christ, the Anointed One and the Messiah. He is not just another nice guy or prophet among others religious leaders. Jesus is God in the flesh. And when Jesus speaks in the Gospels…that is God talking to you. Today, we know what happened at the Transfiguration, and, I pray…we will know that God wants Jesus to transform us all… into his image and likeness… Amen.

 

 

 

Sermon: “Excuses, Excuses”

Scripture: Psalm 138 and Luke 5: 1-11

February 16, 2020

One day nine soldiers were late for morning roll call. As a matter of fact, the first soldier didn’t arrive until 7 PM. The Commanding Officer confronted him and yelled, “Where have you been, soldier?” The soldier explained. “Sir, I had a date and missed the bus. So, I hired a cab then it broke down. I went to a farmhouse and bought a horse. Ten miles from camp the horse fell over dead. So, I walked the last ten miles and just arrived, sir.” The CO wasn’t happy but thought to himself, that’s the most creative excuse I’ve heard in a while. So, he let the soldier off with a warning. Oddly enough, the next 7 guys came with the same story: they had a date, missed bus, the cab broke down, dead horse, walked ten miles. When soldier number 9 came back the CO was fuming. The soldier said, “Sorry, sir, I had a date and missed the bus, so I hired a cab…” “Don’t tell me,” the CO yelled, “It broke down.” “Oh, no, sir,” the solider replied. The cab was fine… It’s just that there were so many dead horses in the road that we couldn’t get through.”

When I was a financial advisor, I began to realize a pattern forming among many of my clients. After we would talk and I would recommend investing in a financial product I often heard, you know David this sounds good, but I not going to invest any money today. One day I will get around to it. At lunch I shared my story with a more seasoned financial advisor. He simply chuckled and said that he had heard that excuse too. After lunch he came into my office and said, next time someone tells you that they will invest when they get around to it. Hand them this. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a round silver dollar size piece of wood. I examined the small piece of wood and it read “one round to it.” This was genius. The next time someone said I’ll invest one day when I get around to it. I simply reached in my pocket and handed them… one round to it. In other words, no more excuses.

Don’t you just love excuses? We are all good at making them. Everyone has an excuse. Some are good, and some are ridiculous. Why do we make excuses? We think excuses absolve us of our responsibility to participate in some project or event. We can think of many biblical examples of excuses. Abraham thought he was too old to have a child. Jeremiah, the prophet thought he was too young to communicate God’s message. Moses thought he was unable to do God’s work. He gave multiple excuses: he wasn’t a good public speaker; the Israelites wouldn’t accept him, and many others. Fortunately, for us, all these people got past their excuses.

So, how can our excuses keep us from a complete, fulfilling spiritual walk with Jesus? The fisherman in today’s scripture had ample opportunity to provide Jesus with excuses. As we read this morning, the crowds are growing and are beginning to press in on him because people are trying to hear what he is saying. As it turns out, along the lakeshore close to Capernaum where Jesus was, there is a sequence of inlets, a sort of zigzagging shoreline with each inlet forming a sort of natural amphitheater. Jesus knows that if he can get in a boat and push out from shore just a bit, he will be able to talk in a regular, normal voice, and everyone will be able to hear him much better. As luck would have it, there were a few fishermen with boats nearby. They had been out fishing all night and they were busy cleaning their nets and putting away their gear. Then Jesus calls to one and asks him to take him out in his boat so he can continue teaching the people. After Jesus was done teaching the crowds, he looks over to Simon (we know him as the Apostle Peter) and says, go out a little further to the deep water and cast your nets. Now, even the most novice of fishermen know that fishing in broad daylight is pointless. The best times to fish are late into the night, or very early in the morning, which, as it turns out, is exactly what Simon and his companions have been doing all night with no luck. So, you can imagine Simon’s hesitation when Jesus tells him to row out and cast the nets again.

Simon had just come off a long night on the water, the nets have been cleaned and put away, and now Jesus (a carpenter of all things) is trying to tell Simon, the master fisherman, that he needs to cast the nets out and begin fishing again. It’s easy to imagine Simon’s frustration, and the excuses must’ve flowed so easily. He probably said something like “Really, Jesus? I haven’t caught anything all night, I’ve just put my nets away, and you want me to start fishing now? I really don’t want to go through all this again! Why me? You know, James and John are just over there, why don’t you ask them?” But then in the end, Simon complies, and drops his nets. And look what happened the moment Simon dropped his nets into the water. The nets were so full of fish they began to tear, and when he called to his companions for help, their boats were piled so full of fish that they were on the verge of sinking.

So, here’s what we need to ask ourselves this morning. How many times when Jesus has called on us have, we made excuses like Simon Peter? We do it all the time, don’t we? There’s always some reason that we can’t help a friend. There’s always something else going on… that keeps us from running an errand for your spouse. Or, sorry, I can’t help you…it’s cold outside. So, I think I’ll just stay in bed for a few more months until it warms up a bit. We make so many excuses that it’s probably comforting to see that even the disciples made excuses when Christ called upon them. And yet, look at the result. After all the excuses, Simon finally gave in, and look what happened. The Lord wanted to bless Simon after a particularly trying night of fishing, and so he called on him to push out his boat into the deeper waters, and to cast his nets just one more time. And indeed, Simon was blessed with a miraculous catch. Christ wants to bless us too. But in order for that to happen, we have to be willing to offer ourselves to the Lord, not just when it’s convenient… but all the time.

Then we must stop making excuses and recognize the blessings that come through our willing and faithful service to God. And finally, we must be able to step out of our “comfort zones,” and head for the deeper waters.

Have you ever really stepped out of your comfort zone? Have there been times in your life when asked to do something or go someplace that it made you cringe? Here’s an example: Perhaps, the last thing you wanted to do was to attend another meeting with a bunch of people you don’t know. But, you reluctantly relented and went to the meeting. After the meeting concluded you thought to yourself, that meeting wasn’t that bad. There were a lot of nice people here, and I think I may have made a new friend. I used that example because in March there is a 4-day meeting in Boise that I need to attend. And yes, I have exhausted all my excuses. So, I am starting early to convince myself how much fun I will have.

Some time, you might feel Christ is calling you into deeper waters. He may be calling you to become more involved with the poor and homeless, maybe giving them rides to job interviews or helping them find housing or making sure they have the clothes they need. You see, that’s the kind of thing Christ does. He calls us, even to the places that push us beyond our comfort zone.

The Jewish people were not known for their love of the sea. In fact, for many Jewish people, the sea was a dark and scary place. Even the fisherman who lived on the sea held a healthy respect for its power. Going into deep waters isn’t something they would just do without a lot of consideration for the wind and tides and weather. So, when Jesus directs Simon into the deeper waters, Simon must have been a bit apprehensive. Simon was just like us when we get apprehensive when Christ calls us and pushes us to new places and new adventures.

When Christ calls are you willing to go? Are you willing to venture to places with Christ; places that scare you a little bit? Because the thing is, that’s where the blessing really happens. A lot of people say Christians have a faith that is a mile wide, but only an inch deep. Yet, we have an opportunity everyday with Christ to change that perception. But for our faith to be deep, we need be willing to go with Christ to the deep waters. And here’s the most important thing to remember about all this. As Christians, it’s our job to answer Christ when he calls. No excuses.

Sometimes when Jesus calls, He doesn’t always call us into deeper waters. He simply meets us exactly where we are. Jesus came to Simon as he was working, doing what he did every day. Jesus didn’t ask him to do something different. He didn’t ask him to walk 10 miles to the next town or change his profession. Jesus worked with him right there in the same boat with the same nets on the same sea where Simon always worked. In other words, our work and our mission as followers of Christ are not separate events. Christ can meet us where we are every day. Christ can call us to the people we know, and to the people who know us, whether its colleagues or family or friends.

And Christ wants to go to work with us; he wants to help us right where we are because that is where the blessings and miracles are most likely to happen. We can’t ever forget that our job, whatever it may be, is also our mission and our calling. Christ calls us just the way we are, and he calls us to work right where we are today. Jesus climbs in the boat with us; he steps into our lives, our homes, our workplaces, and he says, I want you to come with me. I want you to follow me and do my work. We can try and run from it, we can come up with all the excuses we want, but that doesn’t change God’s call on our lives.

Brothers and Sister please remember this. The good news for us today is we don’t have to be perfect; it doesn’t matter if we’ve made some terrible mistakes in our lives. It doesn’t matter if you think you aren’t qualified or not prepared for the task. So, make today the day where you stop making excuses, trust God, step out in faith, and follow Christ. All you need to do is every morning say to God everything that I have is yours. Put me to work, here I am, send me.

So, where are we today? Are we the ones offering excuses? Or, are we the ones offering the warm hand of friendship to all of those in need? Are we making excuses for our lack of spiritual depth? Are we more occupied by possessions than we are with possessing the Spirit of God? Are we allowing business concerns to get in the way of the concerns of God? When we think we are secure, we begin to make excuses for not doing the work of God. We make excuses for not helping those in need. We come to our church, sit in our padded pews, and think we are doing something great for God. And yet, we make excuses like I can’t help those people. I have my family to think about. Well I’ve got news for you. Every single member of the human race is part of our family. The prostitute on the corner is part of our family. The grumpy guy at work is part of our family. The homeless man standing outside of McDonald’s is a part of our family.

Is there someone at work who bugs you to no end? God loves that person. Is there a neighbor that drives you up the wall? God loves them too. Can’t stand the Republicans? God loves them. Do the Democrats get under your skin? God loves them too. God loves the jailbird, the rapist, and the murderer. Don’t forget, Jesus died for each one of them just like he died for you and me. And here is what really bugs us. God loves the people we don’t like. And that keeps us from answering his call to be the fisherman that he needs us to be.

We are called to be change agents in our world. James 1:22 tells us that we are called to be “doers of the word rather than just hearers of the word.” And Jesus is calling out to each one of us today to follow him.

Now the choice is yours. Are you going to keep making excuses? Or, are you going to let Jesus in the boat… and let him lead you into the deep waters of forgiveness, love, healing, and discipleship? Amen.