Tuesday, August 29, 2017

“You Want to do Good? Here’s Your Checklist!”

“You Want to do Good? Here’s Your Checklist!”
2017 August 27

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Continue to love each other. Don’t forget to show hospitality to believers you don’t know. By doing this some believers have shown hospitality to angels without being aware of it.  Remember those in prison as if you were in prison with them. Remember those who are mistreated as if you were being mistreated.
Marriage is honorable in every way, so husbands and wives should be faithful to each other. God will judge those who commit sexual sins, especially those who commit adultery.
Don’t love money. Be happy with what you have because God has said, “I will never abandon you or leave you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What can mortals do to me?”
Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you. Think about how their lives turned out, and imitate their faith.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Through Jesus we should always bring God a sacrifice of praise, that is, words that acknowledge him. Don’t forget to do good things for others and to share what you have with them. These are the kinds of sacrifices that please God.

Message:  “You Want to do Good? Here’s Your Checklist!”
Here is your list:
1. Be Hospitable to Strangers
2. Remember the Oppressed
3. Be Faithful Spouses
4. Don’t Love Money or Things
5. Be Content
6. Remember Your Leaders
7. Bring Your Sacrifices to God

In three of the gospels a young rich man asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. We gathered here today already know the answer to that: Believe in our heart that Jesus’ death removed our sins, and confess with our lips that Jesus, not us, is in charger of our lives.  However, we still wonder, “What do I need to do to be good?”

Listen as this Spiritual Song echoes what the Apostle was telling his readers in his letter to the Hebrew Christians.
Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart, in my heart,
Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart, in my heart.
In my heart, in my heart,
Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart, in my heart

Stanza 1 is a prayer expressing the initial desire to become a Christian;
 the others are prayers for growth in Christian character:.

Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart, in my heart,
Lord, I want to be more giving in my heart, in my heart.
Lord, I want to be more forgiving in my heart, in my heart.
Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart, in my heart,
Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart, in my heart.
And more verses akin to these

This African American spiritual could well have originated in Virginia in the 1750s
"A black slave asked Presbyterian preacher William Davies, 'I come to you, sir, that you may tell me some good things concerning Jesus Christ and my duty to God, for I am resolved not to live any more as I have done. . . Lord, I want to be a Christian.'

First, a little about this epistle:
Paul was most often credited with the letter. However, more recent evidence indicates that it was more likely to have been authored by Apollos and Barnabas.
Although the author of Hebrews is unknown to us, he was obviously well known to and well respected by his readers.

At the time of its writing the first century church was being severely persecuted and the writer sent this letter to those Jewish Christians who were considering abandoning the teaching of Jesus and lapsing back into strict Judaism. So, this portion of the letter gives a checklist of how to be a Christian.

The apostle recommends several excellent duties to them, as the proper fruits of faith
1. Be Hospitable to Strangers
2. Remember the Oppressed
3. Be Faithful Spouses
4. Don’t Love Money or Things
5. Be Content
6. Remember Your Leaders
7. Bring Your Sacrifices to God

Christ, in giving himself for us, was able to save to himself a special people who are enthusiastic to do good works. Now the apostle calls the believing Hebrews to carry out these good works as is expected of Christ’s followers.

1. Be hospitable to others.
Hospitality of this sort is made up of parts: 1. Brotherly love, 2 Charity

This is the brotherly love which is different than that love we show to all mankind.
It is also different than that shown to our relatives. 
This is that special and spiritual affection which ought to exist among the children of God.
It is important to remember that this letter is written specifically to the Jewish Christians.  Family connections were very important to the Jews.
It was how they identified themselves, first as Jews, then by tribe of the 12,
then by the larger family and finally by their own parentage.
So, it was assumed that this family form of brotherly love was ingrained in them.

That is why the writer clarifies and defines what he means by showing hospitality to believers by saying, hospitality to believers you don’t know.”

We can suppose that these early Christians had this love for one another because they had all things common. They sold their possessions and created a general fund in which all shared equally.
The spirit of Christianity is a spirit of love.
Faith works by love.
The true religion is the strongest bond of friendship.
·       However, this brotherly love was in danger of being lost during this time of persecution, when it would be needed most; it was in danger of being lost because of disputes among them concerning the ceremonies of the Mosaic law.                       Then, as now, disputes about religion too often produce a splits in the body of Christ; but this must be guarded against, and all proper means used to preserve brotherly love. Christians should always love and live as brethren, and the more they grow in devout affection to God their heavenly Father the more they will grow in love to one another for his sake.

We must add to brotherly kindness charity.
·       The duty required is to entertain strangers, both those that are strangers to Israel, and strangers to ourselves, especially those who are strangers here and are seeking another country, which is the case of the people of God. At this time the believing Jews were in a desperate and distressed condition. But he seems to speak of strangers in general. Though we do not know not who they are, nor from where they come, yet, seeing they are without a place to live, we should allow them room in our hearts and in our houses, as we have opportunity and ability.

·       The reward for this lifestyle is that some have entertained angels unawares. Abraham did so as we read in Genesis. 18,  The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oak trees belonging to Mamre as he was sitting at the entrance of his tent during the hottest part of the day. Abraham looked up, and suddenly he saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran to meet them, and he bowed with his face touching the ground. “Please, sir,” Abraham said, “stop by to visit me for a while. Why don’t we let someone bring a little water? After you wash your feet, you can stretch out and rest under the tree. Let me bring some bread so that you can regain your strength. (later)Then the men got up to leave. As Abraham was walking with them to see them off, they looked toward SodomThe Lord said, “I shouldn’t hide what I am going to do from Abraham.  After all, Abraham is going to become a great and mighty nation and through him all the nations of the earth will be blessed.  I have chosen him so that he will direct his children and his family after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. In this way I, the Lord, will do what I have promised Abraham.” Not only was Abraham visited by three heavenly beings but the one announced himself to be the LORD.

Lot in Genesis. 19 also has an encounter with two of these angels and likewise shows them hospitality. 19 The two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gateway. When Lot saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed with his face touching the ground. 2 He said, “Please, gentlemen, why don’t you come to my home and spend the night? You can wash your feet there. Then early tomorrow morning you can continue your journey.”
“No,” they answered, “we’d rather spend the night in the city square.”
3 But he insisted so strongly that they came with him and went into his home. He prepared a special dinner for them, baked some unleavened bread, and they ate.

Though we can not assusme that we will ever entertain the Lord himself, yet what we do to strangers, in obedience to him, he will count it and reward it as if done to himself. In Matthew 25:34-40 we read, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

God has often bestowed honors and favors upon his hospitable servants without their being aware. I have told this before but, once I had done a kindness for a woman who thanked me by saying, “Thank you for being Jesus for me.” I replied, “No. You were Jesus for me.” It is why I do what I can and give what I can to those in need, because I do and give as if I were doing and giving to Jesus. If I do this, then the gift I have given is in the Lord’s care and I do not have to concern myself about what the other person or persons do with that gift. It is in God’s hands.

2. Remember the Oppressed
“Remember those in prison as if you were in prison with them.” Christian sympathy has several parts: remembrance and empathy. 
·       Remember those that are in bonds. This is the duty—to remember those that are in bonds and in adversity. They need not be in an actual prison of stone and steel. There are many ways in which people are imprisoned by the choices they have made, by physical or mental distress, by poverty, and more. It so happens  that while some Christians and churches are in adversity others enjoy peace and liberty. All are not called at the same to the same thing.
·       Empathy. Those that are at liberty must sympathize with those that are in bonds and adversity, as if they were bound with them in the same chains: they must alleviate the sufferings of their brothers. We must understand that our time of chains may come and think on how we would want to be treated by our brothers in Christ. It would be unnatural in Christians not to bear each other’s burdens.

3. Be Faithful Spouses
“Marriage is honorable in every way, so husbands and wives should be faithful to each other.” It is honorable, for God instituted it in paradise, knowing it was not good for man to be alone. He married and blessed the first couple. Christ honored marriage with his presence and first miracle. It is honorable as a means to prevent impurity and a defiled bed. It is honorable and happy, when persons come together pure affection, and preserve the marriage bed undefiled, not only from unlawful but lustful thoughts. Proverbs 23:7a reads, “for as he thinks within himself, so he is.”  And Jesus said in Matthew 5:28 “I say to you, anyone who stares at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”


The writer also warns his readers that, “ God will judge those who commit sexual sins, especially those who commit adultery.”

4. Don’t love money.  1 Timothy 6:9-10 advises us, “But people who want to get rich keep toppling into temptation and are trapped by many stupid and harmful desires that plunge them into destruction and ruin. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, in their eagerness to get rich, have wandered away from the faith and caused themselves a lot of pain.” And Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:25, “No one can serve two masters, because either he will hate one and love the other, or be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches!”

5. Be Content
“Be happy with what you have.” Paul in his letter to the Philippians 4:11-13 wrote,  “I am not saying this because I am in any need, for I have learned to be content in whatever situation I am in. 12 I know how to be humble, and I know how to prosper. In each and every situation I have learned the secret of being full and of going hungry, of having too much and of having too little. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
And Christ in Matthew 6:25-30 said, “That’s why I’m telling you to stop worrying about your life—what you will eat or what you will drink—or about your body—what you will wear. Life is more than food, isn’t it, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t plant or harvest or gather food into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. You are more valuable than they are, aren’t you? 27 Can any of you add a single hour to the length of your life[b] by worrying? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Consider the lilies in the field and how they grow. They don’t work or spin yarn, 29 but I tell you that not even Solomon in all of his splendor was clothed like one of them.30 Now if that is the way God clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and thrown into an oven tomorrow, won’t he clothe you much better—you who have little faith?

6. Remember your leaders
It is clear from the contents of this letter that the author is not speaking of all of those who claim authority over us. He is speaking of those within the body of Christ who are our leaders and have shared the Word of God with us, for he later writes that these leaders must give an account to God.
Jesus in Matthew 23:2-3 tells the crowds that followed him, “The scribes and the Pharisees administer the authority of Moses, so do whatever they tell you and follow it, but stop doing what they do, because they don’t do what they say. This again indicates that we listen to and follow the truths that they share even as we witness their human weaknesses.

7. Bring God a sacrifice
Now what are the sacrifices which we must bring and offer on this altar? Not sacrifices for atonement for our sins. Christ has already made that great sacrifice which washed away our sins. We need only to offer our praise in acknowledgment on that sacrifice.
Our adoration and prayer, as well as our thanksgiving are the fruit of our lips. These must be offered only to God, not to angels, nor saints, nor any creature, but to the name of God alone, through Christ our savior.
The second part of our sacrifice is to do good deeds for and in the name of God’s Son. As God is well pleased; he will accept the offering with pleasure, and will accept and bless the offers through Christ.
Let me here recap:
1. Be Hospitable to Strangers
2. Remember the Oppressed
3. Be Faithful Spouses
4. Don’t Love Money or Things
5. Be Content
6. Remember Your Leaders
7. Bring Your Sacrifices to God

And all God’s people said, “Amen!”

Sunday, August 20, 2017

2017 August 20 sermon “Ask a Butterfly, ‘Who Are You?’”

2017 August 20 sermon
“Ask a Butterfly, ‘Who Are You?’”
First Reading: Exodus 34:29-35
Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
Second Reading: Luke 9:28-36
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Message: “Ask a Butterfly, ‘Who Are You?’”
Hear now the Parable of the Caterpillar
There was a caterpillar much like other caterpillars. It had lots of legs beneath and lots of stripes of black, white, and yellow. And like all of the other caterpillars, it crawled along eating leaves. That was its life. That is it was its life until one day it crawled upon a lovely flower. The flower was so glorious, so spectacular, so beautiful, that the caterpillar began to weep.
“I never knew such splendor existed!” it cried. “Look how the flower reaches for the sky. Look how gracefully it moves in the breeze. Oh how I long to be so beautiful and full of grace. But I am but dull and brown and fit to do nothing but crawl upon the ground. No one will ever gaze upon me and exclaim, ‘What beauty!’”
In despair the caterpillar curled into a ball in the center of the colorful flower. Soon it slept.
In that sleep, dream formed. A brilliant white butterfly came to him. It was whiter than sunlight on the snow. It glowed with such beauty that it was hard to look upon. In a commanding, yet gentle, musical voice the butterfly spoke, “Wake, my child. Arise, and join me, for I seek a relationship with you.”
“I c-c-can’t follow you,” replied the caterpillar, “You can fly, and I am fit for nothing other than to crawl in the dirt.”
“Then you must stop crawling in the dirt. I’ll give you instruction on how not to live in the dust.”
“I’ll try. However, I still can’t fly.”
“I’ll send my beloved son. Follow him and he’ll teach you all you need to know so that you can join me.”
A short time later another caterpillar appeared. It also had stripes of black, white, and yellow. It looked just like any other caterpillar with legs below and stripes above. It was quite unremarkable until it said, “I am the son of the Great Monarch butterfly in the sky. I’ve been sent to show you how to fly.”
“But, you have no wings either. How can you teach me to fly?”
“Ah, you need to understand how to live as a caterpillar before you can be a butterfly.”
The new caterpillar spoke many things to the old caterpillar. They were wise words about how to live among the flowers, how to behave with other caterpillars, and how to show reverence for the Great Monarch.
More and more caterpillars came to listen to the Monarch’s Son as he spoke about how it was going to be when they would live together in the sky. He spoke about how they would be changed inwardly and outwardly.
Some caterpillars were upset with these teachings. The words were foolishness in their ears. “How can a worm like you speak of flying? You are just a grub like us.” They were so angry that sought to kill him. However, he was always surrounded by his followers and they feared the crowds more than they hated the new caterpillar.
However, one day, a follower of the Son came to them and said, “I know a place and a time when you can come to him when he is nearly alone.” So they came, in force, with others who did not believe the tales told by the Son. They captured him and killed him. “That is the end of that nonsense,” they said, “Let no one speak of him again.”
They felt quite smug about killing him until three days later when word came to them that the Son had been seen alive and meeting with his followers. He was continuing to teach them many things about the kingdom of the sky. He taught them that at the end of their life as a caterpillar they would enter a chrysalis and slowly be changed into butterflies in the image of the Great Monarch. As he was speaking, he was suddenly changed into a brilliant white butterfly and rose into the air until he could no longer be seen.
More about caterpillars.
That famous theologian Lewis G. Carol once wrote:
The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice. `Who are YOU?' said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.'
`What do you mean by that?' said the Caterpillar sternly. `Explain yourself!'
`I can't explain MYSELF, I'm afraid, sir' said Alice, `because I'm not myself, you see.'
`I don't see,' said the Caterpillar.
`I'm afraid I can't put it more clearly,' Alice replied very politely, `for I can't understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.'
`It isn't,' said the Caterpillar.
`Well, perhaps you haven't found it so yet,' said Alice; `but when you have to turn into a chrysalis--you will some day, you know--and then after that into a butterfly, I should think
you'll feel it a little strange, won't you?'
`Not a bit,' said the Caterpillar.
`Well, perhaps your feelings may be different,' said Alice; `all I know is, it would feel very strange to ME.'
`You!' said the Caterpillar contemptuously. `Who are YOU?'
Now I ask you, “Who are you?”
If you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are a new creature.
Who are you?
How do you explain your transfiguration to others?
Here is the definition of Transfiguration: to give a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance.
In our scripture reading we see how Jesus was transfigured. “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white”.
For just a brief moment, those fortunate disciples saw Jesus as he truly is.
How often do we let others see our true nature?
And what would they see?
I would hope that they would see the glory of Christ shining through me.
But most likely if you were to see my true nature it would be fragmented.
There would be those glorious, dazzling white clothes,
patched together with filthy rags.
I am not yet complete.
But I strive forward toward that goal.
As Saint Paul wrote to the Philippians 3:12-14
“It’s not that I’ve already reached the goal
or have already completed the course.
But I run to win
that which Jesus Christ has already won for me.
Brothers and sisters,
I can’t consider myself a winner yet.
This is what I do:
I don’t look back,
I lengthen my stride,
and I run straight toward the goal
to win the prize
that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus.”
I was a caterpillar.
I was a man lost in sin.
And the worst part of it was
that for the longest time,
I didn’t even know that I was lost.
In mine own eyes
And to the eyes of the world,
I was a good man.
As I measured myself against other men,
I could say, “I’m not a thief,
I’m not a murderer,
I obey the law
(that is the law of man-
For I didn’t truly know God’s Law)
I treated my fellow man as I wanted to be treated,
Most of the time.
I wasn’t a liar,
Most of the time.
I was good to children and small furry animals.
That made me a good man. Amen?
Yes I was a good man.
But still a man lost to sin.
I was so surrounded by
The darkness of the world
That I couldn’t see that
I wasn’t a Godly man.
I may have been morally upright,
But I wasn’t morally clean.
My garments were tattered and dirty.
And then,
And then, Jesus made everything right
I gave Him my old tattered garment
He gave me a robe of pure white.
As the hymn says,
“I heard an old, old story how a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary to save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning, of His precious blood's atoning,
Then I repented of my sins and won the victory.
2 Corinthians 5:17 declares,
“Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation.
The old way of living has disappeared.
A new way of living has come into existence.”
But, just as a caterpillar,
Doesn’t become a butterfly overnight,
My transfiguration was just beginning.
I was, and still am, in my chrysalis stage.
Paul, in his lengthy, lawyer way, wrote this.
In Romans 8
So those who are believers in Christ Jesus
can no longer be condemned.
The standards of the Spirit,
who gives life through Christ Jesus,
have set you free from the standards of sin and death.
It is impossible to do what God’s standards demand
because of the weakness our human nature has.
But God sent his Son to have a human nature
as sinners have and to pay for sin.
I love the lyrics to the hymn by Isaac Watts “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed.”
1. Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
for such a worm as I?
2. Was it for crimes that I have done,
he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
3. Well might the sun in darkness hide,
and shut its glories in,
when God, the mighty maker, died
for his own creature's sin.
4. Thus might I hide my blushing face
while his dear cross appears;
dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
and melt mine eyes to tears.
5. But drops of tears can ne'er repay
the debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
'tis all that I can do.
Master, it is good for us to be here.
We have heard your command,
“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
We have been made into a new creature
Lord, we pray that Your beauty shines through us.
Go, you butterflies and share with the caterpillars.
Amen.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Seekers


Christmas 2016 sermon
“Seekers”

Good morning.
Merry Christ mass
You have seen how television and movies market their new releases.  Long before the shows’ release dates, they present “teasers” or “coming attractions” with just a few snippets of the show.  It is done to build excitement for the release date.
“Coming Attractions”

With a lot of movies, they will do a pre-release showing with celebrities invited. There is lots of hoopla with floodlights and, of course, the movie critiques.
God is a master of the “coming attraction”.  Here are a few of them regarding the birth of his son.
Genesis 12:3  “I will bless those who bless you (Abraham), and whoever curses you, I will curse.  Through you every family on earth will be blessed.”
and
Genesis 22:18 “Through your descendant all the nations of the earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Twice here God promises that Abraham’s descendant will be the one who blesses every nation and every family will be blessed.  Let me ask you, which of Abraham’s descendents has blessed every nation and every family.  Jesus.  Amen.
Isaiah 7:14 “So the Lord himself will give you this sign: A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel God is with us.”
Now that is both a shocking and a very specific sign.  Amen?
                                                                              
Micha 5:2-3 “You, Bethlehem Ephrathah, are too small to be included among Judah’s cities.  Yet, from you Israel’s future ruler will come for me.  His origins go back to the distant past, to days long ago. That is why the Lord will abandon Israel until the time a mother has a child.  Then the rest of the Lord’s people will return to the people of Israel.”
Yep!  That’s what is says.  A child born in Bethlehem will rule his people.
But don’t miss the rest of that verse.  Israel will be abandoned UNTIL this child is born.
There were approximately 400 years from the end of the Old Testament to the birth of Jesus.
Sounds kind of abandoned.  Amen?  Now listen carefully to me … I don’t believe God ever “abandons” His people.  However, he did stop sending His prophets to them.  He had another plan

Then after Jesus’ birth the REST of the LORD’s people return to the PEOPLE of Israel.  The rest of the Lord’s people is ….  us.  But you knew that … Amen?
And notice that it says return to the PEOPLE of Israel.  And not return to the COUNTRY of Israel.                                                                                                                                       
I believe that refers to the fact that the gentiles (again that is us) look(ed) to the laws, prophets, and scriptures of the Old Testament for instruction. As the apostle Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16-17
“All scripture is God breathed: helpful for teaching, for refuting error, for giving guidance, and for training others in righteousness; so that God’s people may be capable and equipped for good work of every kind.”
The scripture to which Paul is referring is the Jewish scriptures … the Old Testament.
This brings us back to the prophecies about the coming Messiah. Some scholars suggest that there are more than 300 prophetic scriptures that Jesus fulfilled.  That is a lot of “teasers” and “coming attractions.”
What about opening night?  Were there floodlights?  Oh boy were there floodlights! And how about celebrities?  Nope!  Surprise!  Just dirty, sweaty, working class guys that stunk of sheep.
Luke 2:8-9 “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, see the angel of the Lord came on them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”
Let’s put ourselves in their place for a moment.
It’s night.  Nothing special about the night.  The sheep have calmed and are lying dozing on the dew soaked grass.  The shepherds are gathered around the campfire for warmth.  They have kept the fire small so that their night vision isn’t hampered.  They need to keep a constant watch for predators.  As they are gathered there they are swapping jokes and stories.  Some are reclining and staring at the amazing canopy of stars overhead.
Suddenly, the sky is ablaze with blinding heavenly light.  A multitude of angels are singing as one makes an amazing announcement.  “Unto you a Savior is born!”
Luke 2:10
“And the angel said to them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For to you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
This is the big Ta Da! to the prophecies.
And after centuries of buildup to this moment, this historic, majestic, and miraculously amazing event, were the invited quests given a precise GPS location where they could find this Son of the Most High?
No.  They were given these strange directions:
Luke 2:11
For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign to you; You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Okay, the “City of David” is Bethlehem and the shepherds were near enough that they could run to it.  But Bethlehem had a normal population of around a 1,000.  However, thanks to the Roman census, it was swollen to about twice that size.  Chances are that the shepherds knew that the Messiah would be from the House of David.  

Here is an interesting thought from a Jewish Christian.  He asks, “Are there any Jews in Bethlehem today?  Not a one.  Anyone from the tribe of Judah or the lineage of the household of David?  We don’t even know the tribal distinctions anymore.  Most of the records were destroyed when the Second Temple was destroyed. So how’s the Messiah going to be born now?  This conundrum may cause a few rabbis to scratch their heads today.”

The point he is trying to make to His fellow Jews is, without having proof of linage, no one born today came claim the kingship that belongs to the messiah, only Jesus fulfilled all of the “coming attractions” that God laid down hundreds and thousands of years in advance of His birth.

However, the the shepherds in that long ago day knew that the city was full of David’s descendents, again thanks to the Roman census. So how were they to narrow the search for the newborn king?
As we've seen, the first parts of the shepherds’ directions were only slightly helpful.  Imagine if the angels had appeared to you and said that the savior was born somewhere in you community.  Where would you seek him?  Hospital? Clinic?  Doctor’s office?  Home Birth?  Maybe in one of the churches … but to which denomination would the newborn king belong? How could you narrow down your search?
The next bit of direction was given as “a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.”  Well, the custom of the time was to wrap newborns in strips of cloth.  The arms, legs, and torso were wrapped.  Think mummy.
Babies were, and still are, wrapped for several reasons.  One is warmth.  They’ve just been thrust from this nice body temperature of 98.6 into the outside world.  Chances are good that you were wrapped in a blanket as soon as you were born.
Babies have been in a tight space for their entire pre-birth life.  Wrapping them tightly helps to comfort them.
All of this, the shepherds knew and it was of very little help as a direction to find the baby.  They already knew that it was a newborn. “Unto you this night” so, any newborn that they found would be wrapped in swaddling clothes.
The next piece of information that the shepherds were given was by far the best.  “You will find him lying in a manger.”  That should narrow it down … but not a lot.  They knew what a manger was.  It was a feeding trough for animals.  It would be found in every stable in town.  Most stables were carved out of the stone in the side of a hill.  And the manger was also carved into the wall of the stable.  Just another slab of stone.
Again, think if the angels said to you, “You will find the Son of the Most High lying on a workbench in a garage in a town nearby.”  Are you beginning to grasp how difficult this was for them?
Now forget the images from Christmas cards and children’s programs at church.  The stables were not sanitized places with angels hovering above and singing heavenly songs of praise.  There were no shafts of heavenly light shining down from a magnificent star.  There was no halo like a circle of light above the baby’s head.
The stable was a dark and dirty place.  How many of you have ever mucked out a stable or cleaned a barn?  It was not a fun job.  Amen?  Stables stink and you had better watch your step.  Amen?
                                                                         
The shepherds were not lead by a star.  As a matter of fact, do realize that the shepherds were not “commanded” to find Jesus at all?  No, the angelic host proclaimed his birth … but it was up to the shepherds to decide what to do.  Maybe that is why they weren’t given better directions.  However, they felt compelled to seek him, the long awaited savior.
But by now the angels were gone.  The came.  They sang. And then “blink” and they were gone.
Have you ever been out in the dark starlit night far from street and house lights?  It is amazing how much you can see.  Amen?  But then have someone shine a flashlight in your eyes for even a second, and it becomes pitch black and you can’t even see the stars anymore.  Imagine how blinded and disoriented the shepherds were after their  heavenly encounter.
It was then that they began their quest to find the Christ.  And somehow, despite all the obstacles, they found him lying on a stone feeding trough, in a cave, and tightly wrapped in cloth.  Because to those who seek him, God always provides a way.  Remember that.  If you remember nothing else from this message today, remember God always … always...provides a path for seekers to find Him.e
Now let’s jump ahead thirty some years.  Let’s go from Christmas to Easter because these are the two bookends of Christ’s earthly life.

After Jesus’ crucifixion, Josheph of Arimathaea ask for His body.
Luke 23:53
“And he took it down, and wrapped in linen, and laid it in a sepulcher that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.”
Do you see the similarities?  Those seeking the Messiah were drawn to a cave in a hillside.  They were looking for a body wrapped in burial clothes.  They were looking for him lying on a stone slab.  And they were given strange directions by angels.  “Why do you seek the living among the dead?

Now for something personal:  I was raised in a “religion” that didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter.  As a matter of fact we didn’t celebrate anything.  All I really knew about Jesus was a twisted story that claimed Jesus was one of the archangels that came to earth to free the people of Israel from Roman oppression.  And he failed and will have to come back to set up an earthly kingdom.
                                                                                                                                                
By claiming that Jesus was an archangel, they denied both his humanity and divinity at the same time.  Personally, I stopped believing what they taught when I was about twelve years old.  From that time until I was in my early twenties, I didn’t really believe much at all.
I was willing to believe in a creator god who set everything into motion.  As a matter of fact, I’ve always had a hard time believing that anyone could deny a creator.  Look around at the intricate interplay of all the things on earth and in the cosmos and it is foolish to believe it all just kind of accidentally fell into place.
However, it wasn’t until a good Christian man asked me point blank if I believed that Jesus died for me.  For me?  Why would anyone die for me?  I had to learn about this amazing person.  That is when I began seeking Jesus.  I was fortunate in that I didn’t have to look for him in either a cave stable or in a cave grave.  I first found him in the people who called themselves Christians.  That led me to delve deeper into the Bible.
I found Jesus there also.  If you really search for him, He is everywhere in the sixty six books of the old testament.  And of course the new testament is all about Him.

Have you ever lost a child in a crowd?  You began looking for them everywhere and then you heard them cry out for you?  That is what God is always doing for us
When I went seeking Him, I found that He had been seeking me also.  Now I see Him everywhere.  And occasionally He even shines out through me to others.
Like the angels to the shepherds, I am announcing that YOUR savior is here.  And you, like the shepherds have the opportunity to seek him.
So, let me suggest that you seek a little deeper for Him.  He is so much more than a baby, or a man in a grave. Don’t seek Him there.  He has claimed his place  He is the Messiah, and His kingdom reigns on earth NOW as well as the time to come.  Look around you.  These are the people of the kingdom.  If you can’t say that you are part of the kingdom, I invite you to accept Him into your heart now.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Good Grapes, Sour Grapes”

Read Psalm 80,  Isaiah 5:1-7, Mark 12:1-12, and John 15:1-8*

“Good Grapes, Sour Grapes”

      Let’s look at these remarkable parables from the old and new testaments about vines and vineyards.  But before we do, I want to read this quote from Raymond Brown in his book “The Gospel According to John”

    “It is helpful to remember that in Israel, branches that do not bear fruit are cut off in February/March. “Sometimes the vines are so completely cut back that one sees in the vineyard only the stalks bereft of branches. Later (August) when the vine has put forth leaves, comes the second stage of pruning, as the vinedresser pinches off the little shoots so that the main fruit-bearing branches get all the nourishment.”

  We are going to start at the ending.  For though we are speaking of the True Vine and false vines or Good Grapes of Sour Grapes.  What we are really talking about is what “fruit” is good and what is unacceptable to God.  So let us look at what Jesus says in Matthew 12:33-37  “Make a tree good, and then its fruit will be good. Or make a tree rotten, and then its fruit will be rotten. A person can recognize a tree by its fruit.  You poisonous snakes! How can you evil people say anything good? Your mouth says what comes from inside you.  Good people do the good things that are in them. But evil people do the evil things that are in them.

“I can guarantee that on judgment day people will have to give an account of every careless word they say.  By your words you will be declared innocent, or by your words you will be declared guilty.”

Clearly Jesus was saying that we can tell the difference between good people and bad people by their actions and their words.  This good fruit is proof of the basic goodness or godliness of their true selves.

In our reading from Isaiah we found that God, ”Hoped for justice but saw only slaughter, for righteousness but heard only cries of distress.” Clearly the good fruit desired was Justice and righteousness which are once again seen as proof that the branches have remained attached to the True vine.

Jesus said, “I am the true vine.”

I don’t know many times have I read this section or heard sermons on this section and yet, there is a word that I’ve seen for the first time: “TRUE”.  Jesus didn’t just say that he was the Vine.  He is the True Vine.  That indicates to me that there are at least two vines … maybe more … the other(s) are False Vine(s}.

Psalm 80 gives us a hint.

“You brought a vine from Egypt.  You forced out the nations and planted it.:  You cleared the ground for it so that it took root and filled the land.  Its shade covered the mountains. Its branches covered the mighty cedars. It reached out with its branches to the Mediterranean Sea. Its shoots reached the Euphrates River.

It is clear from this passage that the vine brought out of Egypt was the Jewish people themselves.  God brought them out of slavery to the land promised to Abraham.  A land that God had prepared for them.  A land that already had cities, towns, farms, pastures, and vineyards. 

What was the promise that God made to Abraham?  We read in Genesis 12:1-3, “The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your relatives, and your father’s home.  Go to the land that I will show you.  I will make you a great nation, I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I will curse.  Through you every family on earth will be blessed.”

At first reading it sounds like the promise is all about making Abraham great in the eyes of the world.  It is that but there is a purpose at the end of the promise, you will be a blessing. through you every family on earth will be blessed.  He and his descendants were to be a blessing to everyone on earth.  They were to become this blessing by following God and bringing others into communion with God

In our reading from Isaiah he used this illustration,

“Let me sing a lovesong to my beloved about his vineyard:

My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it up, removed its stones, planted it with the choicest vines, built a watchtower in it, and made a winepress in it.  Then he waited for it to produce good grapes, but it produced only sour, wild grapes.”

What happened to that vine brought out of Egypt and planted in the promised land?  Although God had done all of the work to prepare a place for His special people, they failed to produce good grapes and only produced sour wild grapes.

In Isaiah God, through His prophet, asked,

What more could have been done for my vineyard than what I have already done for it? 

The answer, of course, is nothing.  God had done all that could be done to make His people produce good fruit.  It was the people who had rebelled against His teaching, training and leading.

In the beginning of the nation, it was a nation ruled by God, who chose Judges and Prophets to guide the people, and it grew strong and healthy.  However, the people of Israel forgot their God and started to want to be like other nations.  Other nations were ruled, not by God, but by kings. 

Samuel was one of those chosen by God to be a judge among the people.  We read in 1 Samuel Chapter 9 1-18,

“When Samuel was old, he made his sons judges over Israel.  The name of his firstborn son was Joel; the name of his second son was Abijah. They were judges in Beersheba. The sons didn’t follow their father’s example but turned to dishonest ways of making money. They took bribes and denied people justice.

Then all the leaders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.  They told him, “You’re old, and your sons aren’t following your example. Now appoint a king to judge us so that we will be like all the other nations.”

But Samuel considered it wrong for them to request a king to judge them. So Samuel prayed to the Lord.  The Lord told Samuel, “Listen to everything the people are saying to you. They haven’t rejected you; they’ve rejected me.  They’re doing just what they’ve done since I took them out of Egypt—leaving me and serving other gods. 

Once they detached them from the vine which is God, they became wild and produced sour grapes.

Jesus said, “my Father takes care of the vineyard.  He removes every one of my branches that doesn’t produce fruit.“

The vine brought out of Egypt and tenderly cared for had been corrupted by the world and was now fit for nothing but kindling.  Though His chosen people had abandoned Him, God never completely abandoned them.  He allowed them to be “trimmed” but he always saved a remnant that he could replant. 

However, over and over they turned from Him.  Jesus told the story of the owner of the vineyard who repeatedly sought only to gather the fruit that was his due.  In the same way God sent prophets to warn the people but as Jesus said,

“He had one more person to send. That person was his son, whom he loved. Finally, he sent his son to them. He thought, ‘They will respect my son.’

“But those workers said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’  So they took him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.”

The nation of Israel was intended to bare fruit for God, but it failed.  Now Jesus, the true vine, has been planted and is bearing fruit for the Father.  He does not fail, and so he is the true vine. The nation of Israel did not bring forth the desire fruit, therefore we find Jesus saying, In Matthew 21:43 where Jesus dispensed with parables and told them directly, “That is why I can guarantee that God’s kingdom will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce what God wants.

I have know people, and perhaps you have too, who think that being a follower of Christ should protect them from all troubles and pain.  They become disillusioned when they run upon hard times.

There are many times that God does protect us from the evil forces at work in the world.  We never see them and so don’t recognize His divine hand at work.  At other times, He allows us to go through the storms of life because they make us stronger.  As Jesus said, “He (God) also prunes every branch that does produce fruit to make it produce more fruit.”

“This task, pruning, is a very critical one in a real vineyard and requires great skill born of experience.  That Jesus understood this shows that he was very familiar with grape culture, otherwise he could not have known that by pruning a fruit bearing branch one can cause it to bear more fruit.

By what means does the Father dress the vine, or prune it?  We find the answer in v. 3.  The pruning is also the "making clean" of the heart and soul of the individual, which he accomplishes by means of the Word.  We must always keep in mind that when Jesus speaks of the Word in such a way, he means the Word of God that issues from his lips.  His disciples were already clean because they had cast off all the impediments to receiving his Word and so, receiving the Word, they were cleansed by the Word.  The close relation between the pruning and the making clean is seen clearer in the Greek, where "pruning" and "cleaning" are both rendered from kathairo.  They are the same word.”(a)

Jesus said, “I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who live in me while I live in them will produce a lot of fruit. But you can’t produce anything without me.  Whoever doesn’t live in me is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Branches like this are gathered, thrown into a fire, and burned.” 

The good news is, if we stay true to the teachings of the Lord, we will produce fruit pleasing to God.

The bad news is, if we fail to bear good fruit, we are of no use to God and will be cast away.

But look, Jesus follows this with a promise.  “If you live in me and what I say lives in you, then ask for anything you want, and it will be yours.” 

This is much the same promise He made in Mark 11:22-25 Jesus declares, “Have faith in God!  I can guarantee this truth: This is what will be done for someone who doesn’t doubt but believes what he says will happen: He can say to this mountain, ‘Be uprooted and thrown into the sea,’ and it will be done for him.  That’s why I tell you to have faith that you have already received whatever you pray for, and it will be yours.  Whenever you pray, forgive anything you have against anyone. Then your Father in heaven will forgive your failures.”

The reason for that reward is because, “You give glory to my Father when you produce a lot of fruit and therefore show that you are my disciples.”

If we are to produce good fruit we must remain true to the purpose that God has intended for us.  What is our purpose?  Hear this answer from Micah 6:8.  “You mortals, the Lord has told you what is good.  This is what the Lord requires from you:  to do what is right, to love mercy, and to live humbly with your God.”

Christ, who has nourished us as the living True Vine, make us, Your branches, one in praise and love, and raise us up at the last day to our true reward.

Amen

Bible quotes are from the God’s Word Translation

Quotes from a sermon by Edgar Jones

*Psalm 80    Open your ears, O Shepherd of Israel, the one who leads the descendants of Joseph like sheep, the one who is enthroned over the angels. Appear in front of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Wake up your power, and come to save us. O God, restore us and smile on us so that we may be saved. O Lord God, commander of armies, how long will you smolder in anger against the prayer of your people? You made them eat tears as food. You often made them drink their own tears. You made us a source of conflict to our neighbors, and our enemies made fun of us. O God, commander of armies, restore us and smile on us so that we may be saved. You brought a vine from Egypt.  You forced out the nations and planted it.: You cleared the ground for it so that it took root and filled the land. Its shade covered the mountains. Its branches covered the mighty cedars. It reached out with its branches to the Mediterranean Sea. Its shoots reached the Euphrates River. Why did you break down the stone fences around this vine?  All who pass by are picking its fruit. Wild boars from the forest graze on it. Wild animals devour it. O God, commander of armies, come back!  Look from heaven and see!  Come to help this vine. Take care of what your right hand planted, the son you strengthened for yourself.  The vine has been cut down and burned.  Let them be destroyed by the threatening look on your face. Let your power rest on the man you have chosen, the son of man you strengthened for yourself. Then we will never turn away from you.  Give us life again, and we will call on you.  O Lord God, commander of armies, restore us, and smile on us so that we may be saved.

Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing a lovesong to my beloved about his vineyard:

My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it up, removed its stones, planted it with the choicest vines, built a watchtower in it, and made a winepress in it.  Then he waited for it to produce good grapes, but it produced only sour, wild grapes.

Now then, you inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah, judge between me and my vineyard!  What more could have been done for my vineyard than what I have already done for it?  When I waited for it to produce good grapes, why did it produce only sour, wild grapes?

Now then, let me tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will tear away its hedge so that it can be devoured and tear down its wall so that it can be trampled. I will make it a wasteland. It will never be pruned or hoed. Thorns and weeds will grow in it,  and I will command the clouds not to rain on it.

The vineyard of the Lord of Armies is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the garden of his delight. He hoped for justice but saw only slaughter, for righteousness but heard only cries of distress.

 

Mark 12:1-12

Then, using this illustration, Jesus spoke to them. He said, “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, made a vat for the winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to vineyard workers and went on a trip.  

“At the right time he sent a servant to the workers to collect from them a share of the grapes from the vineyard.  The workers took the servant, beat him, and sent him back with nothing.  So the man sent another servant to them. They hit the servant on the head and treated him shamefully.  The man sent another, and they killed that servant. Then he sent many other servants. Some of these they beat, and others they killed.

“He had one more person to send. That person was his son, whom he loved. Finally, he sent his son to them. He thought, ‘They will respect my son.’

“But those workers said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’  So they took him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

“What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the workers and give the vineyard to others.  Have you never read the Scripture passage:

‘The stone that the builders rejected

   has become the cornerstone.

The Lord has done this,

   and it is amazing for us to see’?”

They wanted to arrest him but were afraid of the crowd. They knew that he had directed this illustration at them. So they left him alone and went away.

 

John 15:1-8

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father takes care of the vineyard.  He removes every one of my branches that doesn’t produce fruit. He also prunes every branch that does produce fruit to make it produce more fruit.

“You are already clean because of what I have told you.  Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It has to stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me.

“I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who live in me while I live in them will produce a lot of fruit. But you can’t produce anything without me.  Whoever doesn’t live in me is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Branches like this are gathered, thrown into a fire, and burned.  If you live in me and what I say lives in you, then ask for anything you want, and it will be yours.  You give glory to my Father when you produce a lot of fruit and therefore show that you are my disciples.