Thursday, August 9, 2012

“So Whadda Ya Want? A Kosher Deli?”

Bread, bread and more bread.
          Jesus used so many symbols in his teachings, shepherds, sheep, wine, water, and of course, bread.  These were all things that were common items to his listeners.  They would have understood some subtleties about sheep and shepherds that more modern and urban folks just don’t fully grasp.  I suppose if he were to tell us parables in this age he would use the internet, cell phones, automobiles and things that are common to all of us.
            The good news is; we all understand bread.  Across all cultures and across all time we understand bread.  Bread is not exciting.  My oldest son liked to eat bread with nothing on it.  No peanut butter and jelly, no honey, not even butter.  He would call it dull bread.  Seriously, he would come in and say, “May I have a slice of dull bread.”  Yes bread is not exciting unless you are starving.  A person can live a long time on bread and water.  It is that basic.
            Jesus tries to tell his followers something about bread.  Most of them miss the point.  In the video we watched where he feed five thousand people with a little boy’s lunch, do you think he may have been demonstrating that God will provide.  So often we look at our own lack, our shortcoming, our need or our desire and its attainment is so far away, so far beyond our ability to achieve.  And yet…God has a limitless supply.  The catch is we have to align our will with God’s instead of expecting God to align with our will.  He will provide what we need, when we need it.  And in most cases … surprise! … It will be different from and so much better than what we were expecting.
            Bread.  So basic.  So common.  Every day, many times a day we have bread.  That is what Jesus wants us to remember about Him.  Every day, many times a day we need to commune with Jesus.  Are you listening?
            Those people back there on that grassy hillside missed the point.  Some saw the power and wanted to make him a king. 
            For selfish reasons!  They weren’t looking to make him a king for His glory.  No!  They wanted a king who could feed them, care for them, and make them rich and give them power.
            Some of them, after they realized that he had managed to slip away unnoticed followed his disciples across the sea.
          Oh yes, in the verses between the feeding of the five thousand and when the crowd found Him on the other side of the sea, the disciples got into a boat and started across the sea without Jesus.  He caught up to them by walking on the water.  You remember that story.  Right?  That’s why our reading starts with, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”
          Jesus knew why they had followed Him so He answered them, “Most certainly I tell you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled.”  These people were not following so that they could truly become the People of God that they claimed to be.  No!  They came for earthly things.  They would have been happy if Jesus would have opened a Kosher Deli with an all-you-can-eat buffet!
          Don’t get smug here.  Examine your self as I have to examine myself.  I’ll admit there are times that I’ve treated the God of creation like a genie in a magic lamp.  I’ve gone to God with my wish list…but left my work clothes behind.
          Hear again what Jesus said, “Don’t work for the food which perishes, but for the food which remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has sealed him.”
          I know that we, like them want to ask, “Okay, so what do we have to do, so that we can work the works of God?”
          But you see they weren’t listening.  They only heard what they wanted to hear.  They and we so often hear “Don’t work for the food which perishes.  Work for the food that gives you eternal life.”  Right?  Is that what you heard?  That is what I’ve heard for years when I read that passage.
          However, look what is really says, “Which the Son of Man will GIVE you.”  Give you.  It is a gift.  You can’t WORK for it.
As a matter of fact, Jesus answered them this way, “You want some work to do well this is the work that God expects, believe in him whom he has sent.”
          Now these same people who had followed Him into the wilderness and up the mountain and then across the sea BECAUSE OF THE POWER THEY WITNESSED, had the audacity to ask him, “What then do you do for a sign, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you do?”
          I’ll tell you the truth; it is a good thing that God didn’t choose ME to be His messiah.  My patience would have run out right there.  “You want a sign?  Another sign?  You can’t see all of the arrow shaped signs with flashing lights that are pointed at me?  I’ll give you a sign.  I got your sign right here!”  Yep!  It’s a good thing it wasn’t me standing on that sea shore with those people.  ‘Cause if I’d of had the power of God at my finger tips …..”  It wouldn’t have turned out well for them.
          But there I go getting all smug and superior sounding again.  I forgot for a second that I’m not Christ.  I’m one of the people in the crowd saying, “Yeah sure, you fed me yesterday … but what have you done for me today?”  Oh yeah, I’d have been the loud mouth at the front of the crowd saying, “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness. As it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’  Yep!  That would have been me out there spouting Bible verses at God incarnate because I have my own agenda, my own goals, my own plans and You, Jesus, what are you going to do for me?
          Jesus took them down a peg or two when he said to them, “Most certainly, I tell you, it was NOT Moses who gave you the bread out of heaven.  Have you forgotten that it was my Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven?
          Now pay attention because I’m going to explain it one more time, the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”
          They interrupt and say, “Lord, always give us this bread.”  Okay!  Free bread for life…hmm…I wonder if that includes donuts?  Oh and the cream filled horns!
          Jesus tries again to get them and us to understand, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not be hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
          “But I have repeatedly told you that you have seen me, and yet you don’t believe.  Well believe this, “All those whom the Father gives me will come to me. He who comes to me I will in no way throw out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.  This is the will of my Father who sent me, that of all he has given to me I should lose nothing, but should raise him up at the last day.
This is the will of the one who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son, and believes in him, should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
          Now that right there is about as short and direct of a sermon as I have ever heard.  Did they get it?  Has it soaked in yet?  Well stay tuned ‘cause the stories not over yet.
          The Jews therefore murmured (You know what murmuring is right?  Murmuring is those things said under your breath but loud enough that the offending party can still hear you.)  So these Jews murmured concerning him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down out of heaven.”  But they said "We know this guy." He is Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? He is just the carpenter’s kid so what is this nonsense about, ‘I have come down out of heaven?’”
          So Jesus said, I can hear you, you know?  Look, I’ll draw you a picture, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up in the last day.”  Now I KNOW that you have all read the prophets, since you were quoting scriptures to me.  It is written in the prophets, ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who hears from the Father, and has learned, comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except he who is from God. He has seen the Father.”
          Not that anyone has seen the Father, except he who is from God. He has seen the Father.
          Did that sound like a ‘dig’ to you?  Na na na na Nahna you haven’t seen him but I have, so there!  No, that’s probably not the way Jesus meant it.
          But he does go on to say, “I tell you, he who believes in me has eternal life.  I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, which anyone may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread which came down out of heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. Yes, the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
          So many times when I read passages like this, I think, “How can these people be so dense?  How can they not see what is in front of them?”  Then I remember that it took me twenty some years of hearing hundreds of sermons in dozens of different denominational churches before I saw what was right in front of me.  Jesus own disciples, who were with Him day and night for around three years, didn’t see the fullness of what He was saying until much later.
          At that final Passover meal with them, He took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it He broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Then he tells them that “the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.”  This gets the disciples into a debate about who would betray Him.  So quickly, after He had said “Do this in remembrance of me” they were already forgetting about Him and arguing over their own interests.
          In our passage about the walk to Emmaus, He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  It wasn’t until he was at the table with them, when he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them, that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.
          In the twenty-first chapter of John it records that after Jesus death, after his appearing to them several times, the disciples were still confused as to what to do.  Peter says, “Let’s go fishing.”  They’d been fishing at night with no luck when someone on the shore tells them to cast their nets to the right side of the boat.  They catch a lot of fish.  This should have jarred a memory loose.  This was the same thing that Jesus had done when he first met Peter, Andrew, James and John.  But it wasn’t until Jesus said, “Come and have breakfast,” then took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish; that they recognized Him.
          Bread, bread, and more bread.  Story, after story, after story.  It has to be repeated some many times for them and for us before it is remembered.

          In a minute we are going to take communion together.  We are going to eat dull bread.  We are going to take it into our bodies.  Our bodies will break it down so that it can be used to fuel and repair and renew the body.  Two thousand years ago Jesus had a confrontation with people who could not grasp the fact that God wants us to do the same thing with Him.  He wants us to feed on Him, to take Him into ourselves to become a part of us.  And just as our physical body can not live without constantly renewing our food intake, so our spiritual body needs to be constantly fed. 
          Remember as often as you do this … as often as you do this, remember Me.

"Wiggle, Wiggle, Wiggle, Dance Before the Lord"

2 Samuel 6:1-19
          David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.  David and all the people with him set out and went from Ba-a-le-ju-dah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim.  They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of A-bin-a-dab, which was on the hill. Uz-zah and A-hi-o, the sons of A-bin-a-dab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and A-hi-o went in front of the ark.  David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 
          When they came to the threshing floor of Na-con, Uz-zah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it.  The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uz-zah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God.  David was angry because the Lord had burst forth with an outburst upon Uz-zah; so that place is called Perez-Uz-zah, (which means, Outbreak against Uz-zah) to this day.  David said, “How can the ark of the Lord come into my care?”  So David was unwilling to take the ark of the Lord into his care in the city of David; instead David took it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.  The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.
          It was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.”  So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling.  David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.  So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. 
          As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Mi-chal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.
          They brought in the ark of the LORD, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the LORD.  When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

          Wiggle, Wiggle, Wiggle.  It’s so much fun watching toddlers dance.  Sure there isn’t any gracefulness but there is sure a lot of enthusiasm. 
Wiggle, Wiggle, Wiggle.  The joy just bursts forth from them.  Dance isn’t taught; we do it naturally.  I’m not talking about a set of structured steps done in a certain pattern, but REAL dance.  That movement that is linked to our very emotions.  Even before they can walk or talk, babies will move to the music.  We are wired for it by our creator.  Every human culture, no matter how primitive, has music and dance.
          Our emotions drive our movements.  If we see someone sitting all slumped over, head and shoulders down; we recognize the defeated emotions that the other person is feeling.  When we see someone jumping and waving their arms or fist pumping, we know that they are literally jumping for joy.
          Life is a dance, join in.
          Now, I don’t dance, not the waltz, Texas two step or polka.  If I did, I’d look like a have two peg legs.  But I move to the music.  I clap.  I tap my feet.  I wave my hand like I’m conducting the choir.  Music and emotion move me.
          Big emotions burst forth with explosive movements.  Your team has just won in the last second of the game, you know how you’re going to react; explosive movement that captures that exuberance.
          By all accounts King David was an emotional kind of guy.  His heart ruled his head.  Sometimes it got him into trouble.  When you think of David, what is your first thought?  Do you remember his triumph over the giant Goliath? Do you remember David as the man who committed adultery with Bathsheba?  Do you remember his failures as a father? Do you remember Him as a humble shepherd?  Or, do you remember David as the “Sweet Singer of Israel?”  
          Do you know how God remembers David?  The answer is given to us in Acts 13:22.  There, Paul quotes God and tells us that God looks at David as “a man after God’s Own heart!” God remembers David as a man who cared about the things that God cared about; who loved what God loved; hated what God hated; and whose heart beat in time with God’s. 
          Today’s Hebrew scripture reading clearly shows a mixed bag of emotions that David was going through.  King Saul is dead and David has been recognized as the new king.  His first order of business is to bring the Ark of the Covenant home.
                At this point, a little history regarding the Ark is in order.  The Ark of the Covenant was built at the command of the Lord.  The word Ark means “chest or box.”  The Ark was a box of wood that measured 45” long and 27” wide by 27” high.  This box was overlaid in pure gold.  It was topped by a golden grate called the Mercy Seat.  On either side of the Mercy Seat, were two golden cherubim.  Inside the Ark were a golden pot of manna; Aaron’s rod that budded and the two tablets of the Law that were given to Moses at Mount Sinai. It was here that God promised to meet with His people.  It was here that the blood of the atonement was place on the Day of Atonement.  It was here that the shechinah glory of God (Literally The PRESENCE of God) rested as the children of Israel journeyed through the wilderness.
      This Ark was vital to worship in Israel.  It was symbolic of God’s presence among His people.  It was often carried into battle in front of the soldiers.  It was central to their lives; their worship and their relationship with God.  But, the Ark had not been kept in the central position that it deserved; and, as a result, neither had God.
      You see, way back in the days of Eli, some 75 years earlier, the Ark had been taken by the Philistines.  However, God punished the Philistines the whole time the Ark was in their possession.  Their solution was to place the Ark on a new cart and allow the cattle that pulled the cart to take the box back to Israel.  So, after 75 years, David is about to take Israel and lead them to go after God.
          David’s desire is clear and simple.  He wants the Ark returned to its place as the centerpiece of worship and devotion in Israel.  He wants God placed back in the center of the national consciousness. David was seeking to unify a formerly divided nation with God as their true King once again.  David desired God’s presence, God’s blessing and God’s guidance.
          David was motivated by no ulterior motives.  He was not after glory or power; David merely wanted to see God restored to His proper place as the Sovereign God of the nation of Israel.  He strongly desired that God would be glorified among the people of Israel.
          David knew that neither he nor Israel would amount to anything without the presence and power of God.  David knew they did not possess the power or the ability to fend for themselves.  They needed God.  They needed His presence and His power.  Therefore, David set out to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem to restore it to a place of prominence in the eyes of the nation.
          That sounds pretty good, right?  Certainly, David has good intentions; however, he is letting his emotions drive him without thinking it through and doing the proper preparation.  Some 30,000 chosen men of Israel accompany David to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem
          He is going as if going to war.  There is no need to TAKE the ark from the Philistines.  Indeed, the Philistines are the ones who instigate its return to Israel.  David took warriors but what he needed was priests.  God had given very clear instructions about how and by whom the ark was to be moved, and it wasn’t by ox cart or warriors.  The ark was designed with rings on the legs.  Wooden poles  covered in gold were placed through the rings.  The ark of God was to then be carried on the shoulders of selected priests by the use of the poles.  The ark itself was to never be touched.  It was a physical representation of the presence of God and therefore completely holy.  Since the holy nature of  God is fatal to sin, men must NEVER touch the ark.
          So here we have David and all the house of Israel dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.  A great big parade.  Everything is sunshine and lollipops!  
          But then, opps! When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, the cart hit a bump and the ark shook so Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, and God struck him there because he touched the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. 
          Apparently good intentions are not enough. 
          David’s motives in bringing the Ark to Jerusalem were proper; but his methods were faulty.  Instead of being successful; David’s methods for transporting the Ark resulted in the death of a man named Uzzah.  This angered David, and created fear within David’s heart toward the Lord.
          Let’s take a moment to examine David’s disappointment a little more closely and seek to determine what caused his plan to fall apart.
          The Bible says that they “set the Ark of God upon a new cart…”  David’s first problem was rooted in the fact that he either forgot or ignored the clear command of God as to how the Ark was to be transported.  The Ark was to be lifted by means of two golden staves which were to be passed through golden rings fashioned on the corners of the Ark.  The Ark was then to be lifted up and carried upon the shoulders of a family of Levites known as the Kohathites.  David made good plans and good preparations, but he neglected to do it God’s way. He paid a high price for this decision.
            Another flaw that mars David’s decision is the fact that he did not seek God BEFORE he made it.  Up to this moment, David has always gone to the Lord for guidance and direction.  Time and time again, David asks the Lord for help.  Here, he does not seek the Lord, but he just assumes that God will bless him because he is doing a good thing.
            Another problem David has is his methods were the same methods that had been used by the Philistines.  When the Philistines had the Ark and wanted to return it to Israel, they had placed it on a new cart. 
David did the same for the first two miles of their journey, then the oxen shook the cart and threatened to dump the Ark off the cart. At this point, Uz-zah reached out his hand in an effort to steady the Ark and prevent it from falling.  This seems like a logical thing to do, but apparently God did not agree.  He killed Uzzah on the spot!  You see, the Ark was not only supposed to be carried only on the shoulders of the Kohathites; it was never to be touched by human hands.  The penalty for touching the Ark was death, as Uz-zah and David quickly found out.
          There are some absolutes that can not be broken even by those who ‘mean well’.  Looking across a canyon and seeing someone needing help doesn’t mean you can step off of your cliff and walk directly to the other person.  The law of gravity will kill you if you step off into thin air.  The law of holiness will do the same.  It isn’t vengeance.  It is simply one of those absolutes.
          If these verses teach us anything, they teach us that God is very interested in the details.  We may think that God does not care about the little things in life; but He does!  When God gives a command, He expects it to be followed to the letter.  A heart that is follows God does what God says to do, and it stops doing what God says not to do. 
          God is intensely interested in the little things of life; even the things that we may not think matter at all.
      Does God’s reaction seem harsh to you?  After all, Uzzah was merely trying to do a good thing.  But, that is the price for disobedience and for violating the holiness of God.  God honors obedience and He will judge disobedience!
    Some other truths that we should take note of here are the following:
·         God’s blessings come only through obedience and those who defy His Word and His will are going pay a terribly high price.  The best thing a child of God can do is align themselves with the Word of God and walk in humble obedience.
·         Failing to seek God’s will is just as dangerous as ignoring what He has already told you to do. His children should always pray before they make a move.
·         Trying to carry out God’s business using the methods of the world is a recipe for disaster.  We have no business trying to carry the church on the new carts of the world’s wisdom.  It is to be carried on the shoulders and in the hearts of the people of God!
·         Like Uz-zah, we are often guilty of reaching out with our hands instead of reaching up with our hearts.  We are guilty of trying to do spiritual work in the power of the flesh.  We attempt to do the work of God with our hands and never really get under the burden.  That will never work and God will not bless it!
          A while back I was asked to give a short sermon to a women’s group.  I picked a passage of scripture and a topic that would go with the theme of the meeting.  I started to write.  It sounded pretty good to me.  But … oh no … but … this little niggling thought kept working it’s way into my mind.  It had nothing to do with the point I was trying to make in the sermon. It wasn’t just a tangent to the sermon, it was a totally different direction and not even based on the perfectly good scripture section I had chosen.  After a couple of attempts to ignore it, I shut up and listened.  God had a different message for that woman’s group than I did.  I went with His message.

          So, Uz-zah died because of David’s disregard for God’s instructions and David was angry.  God’s reality had just rained on David’s parade.   All that joy and enthusiasm disappeared like a popped soap bubble.   David took it personal.  How could God do this to him?  He was trying to do the right thing … right?  Amen? 
          Now this is where it gets personal.  Have you ever been angry with God because something didn’t go your way?  A friend of mine who volunteered at the VA Hospital told of how shocked he was to hear a man standing in one of the wards, scream and cursing God.  The way my friend, Lester, relayed the story, this person was in a rage and directing it at God.  Lester couldn’t believe his ears and was surprised that God didn’t strike this man down where he stood.  
          My take was a little different.  I saw this man’s tirade as a prayer.  He was being totally honest with God, maybe for the first time in his life.  Did you think that every prayer had to be sugar coated with “blessed is your name”, “we give you praise and glory.”?  Nope! Many times, we believe that we have to be perfect and kind, specificity in our communication with the Lord. What you can see here is that this man, like David, is openly reveling himself to the Lord.  Read the psalms.  A good share of them are, “What’s the deal here, God?  I’ve been good and all its gotten me is hardship and pain!”
          So, when you are upset, angry, downright pissed at how God has been treating you … tell him.  Then … Then …  Shut up and listen.  God will answer you.  He seldom answers in the expected way … that is one of the ways you can be sure it was an answer from God.
                    Good intentions are not enough.  It’s important to remember who is in charge and who makes the rules.
          David, after quite of few months of keeping the ark where it was, finally got back on track.  He aligned his will with God’s instead of expecting God to realign with David’s will.  The result was that the ark of God returned to it’s rightful place in the lives of the people of Israel.  Once more David and the people could dance before the Lord with all of their might.
                We do not have an Ark like Israel did; but we still need the presence of God just as much as they did.  We need God with us and we need His power and His manifest presence in our lives and our worship.  
          We need hearts like that which David possessed.  We need a heart that beats for God, His power and His presence.  We need to learn the lesson that we can do nothing without God, John.  We must have His presence and His power if we are going to serve Him; worship Him and carry out His will in our lives.
          Are we honest with the I honest with him? Am I bold enough to say that I'm angry at the Lord and then work through it to a point of dancing with ALL MY MIGHT?!
          May God grant us hearts that are hungry for God; that will not be satisfied until He comes by in power and glory and transforms us into all we can be for Him.  That was David’s desire; may it be ours as well.
          I think God smiles when he sees us wiggle, wiggle, wiggle with the joy of the Lord.  Come, Holy Spirit, Amen.

Portions of this sermon were borrowed from someoneelse that I found on line.  And they said that they had borrowed from someone also.  However, I had already written my sermon on the subject before I saw theirs and realized that they had said somethings better than I had.  Thank you everyone who posts online sermons.