Pastor’s Weekly Serrmons

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.