Sunday, August 9, 2015

Yes or No? Stay or Go

Hebrew Scripture Reading: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors--Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor--lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.
"Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."

Gospel Reading: John 6:56-69
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you?” Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father."
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

Sermon:  “Yes or No?  Stay or Go”
Let me start with a short prayer.  You pray for my speaking and I’ll pray for your hearing.  God, I pray that You will give me the right words to say. Then I will speak boldly when I reveal the mystery of the Good News.  I pray that despite what I say today, that these people hear your words.  Amen

In these Old Testament and the New Testament scriptures, a decision is demanded.  Using a current idiom, I’d call these as “Come to Jesus meetings.”  They were said with love but there is a clear ultimatum in both stories.  Yes or no?  Stay or go? 

Come to Jesus Meeting is an apt name for these because Jesus demanded a clear commitment.  He called many people.  He called fishermen, tax collectors, tradesmen, revolutionaries, religious leaders, lawyers, and many more.  Some dropped what they were doing and followed.  He called some who turned away sadly.  Some turned away angry. Some said things like, “I’ll follow, but first let me go … (whatever excuse they offered)”  Jesus made it clear that those who said things like, had made their choice.
We are going to be traveling around through time a little bit so … If we get into our scriptural time-machine, we can go back almost three thousand years to the time after Moses had died and Joshua had led the children of Israel into the Promised Land.  Just relax and breathe in and out normally.  This will only take a second. Really, this time machine is the safest way to travel.

As we arrive, things have just, finally, settled down after the fighting. The land was promised by God and He assured the victories.  However, he required the people to fight the battles.  I’m pretty sure that there is a good sermon right there

However, we have arrived after the battles were won, the cities and territories established, the crops and vineyards were planted and the people were beginning to enjoy this land flowing with milk and honey.  Smell that nice fresh air, we don’t have anything like that back in the twenty first century!

Joshua is now over one hundred years old.  He looks pretty spry for a guy his age!  He is the last of the generation who first came to the boarder of the Promised Land.  The generation that refused to follow God’s command to enter the land.  They were afraid of the people who lived there because they were bigger and stronger.  The spies who went in, came back with the report that even though it was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey, the cities were large and well fortified.  And the people were so big that the spies said that “we were like grasshoppers to them.”

They let their fear rule them rather than their faith.  Now I’m sure that there’s a sermon in that!  Their refusal to follow God’s command is the reason that they wandered in the dessert for forty years.  They had been unfaithful, so God led them around the dessert until that whole generation (with the exception of Moses, Caleb and Joshua) had died.  Because of their unfaithfulness, they were not allowed into the land that God had promised.  And not only were they not allowed in, but their children and grandchildren had to delay entering the Promised Land for forty years!  I think there’s another sermon there too!

But, Joshua, now an old man, has just called all the leaders of all the tribes together and has a message for them.  He lays it all on the line by telling them, “Before God called Abraham he had followed other gods.  The descendants of Abraham, after settling in Egypt, had also turned and followed false gods.”  Joshua is letting them know that, as a people, they have not always been faithful followers of the one true God.

Joshua now reminds the people that they are heirs of the covenant that God had made with Abraham. God said, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you, I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Here is their “Come to Jesus Meeting” as Joshua tells the people to make a choice, a commitment, a reaffirmation of the covenant between his people and God.  At the same time he makes it clear that his choice now is and ever will be, “Me and my household, we will serve the LORD." 

The people responded, “What are you talking about?  We would not / could not abandon the Lord to serve other gods. After all the Lord our God brought us and our ancestors out of slavery in Egypt. Do you remember how He did these spectacular signs right before our eyes. He even guarded us wherever we went, especially as we passed through other nations. The Lord forced out all the people ahead of us, including the Amorites who lived in this land. We, too, will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

They may have been children when they fled Egypt or they may have been born during the forty years in the wilderness, but they had grown up with God literally leading them as a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night! They had seen water gush from a rock in the dessert.  God fed them bread from heaven and meat to eat.  They were there when the tabernacle was created and God spoke from above the Ark of the Covenant. They had seen the power of God when he gave them victory over their enemies.

Having witnessed all of these things, it seems only natural that they would choose to follow God!  Right?  I mean, who would be stupid enough to not choose God when you had witnessed all of that?  Makes sense, right?

But hang on a moment, get back in the time machine.  We are going to go back in time another fifty to sixty years.  We are going to see how faithful their, Fathers, Mothers, Grandparents were. 

See, that didn’t take long!  We have arrived safely at the base of Mount Sinai and you’ll notice that it is covered in a dense cloud.  That cloud is an avatar of God, a symbolic representation of His Holy Self.  Don’t get too close.  Sinful man cannot come into the presence of Holy God and live.

We have arrived about three and a half months after they fled from Egypt.  If these folks look a little “shell shocked”  remember they have just lived through the ten plagues of Egypt:

They have just recently seen the Red sea parted so that they could walk through it on dry land.  As soon as they had reached this side of the Red Sea, it closed over the pursuing Egyptians.

Moses has told them to wash their clothing so that they can be ritually clean while he consecrates them to God.  Look, there he goes up the mountain where he will receive the ten commandments from God.

Now look what the people are doing in his absence.  They have melted their golden jewelry and created a golden calf to worship!   Listen!  Do you hear what they are saying?  The are praising this man-made idol and are giving it the credit for bringing them out of Egypt. It has been less than four months from captivity and they have already abandoned God! 

Yep!  These people were that forgetful, ungrateful, and easily swayed. You can almost hear them asking, “What has God done for me today?” 

Wait!  Wait!  I see that look in some of your eyes.  A little light bulb just lit up over your heads.  But don’t start searching your own soul or examining your own relationship with God … not yet!  I have a few more illustration to make before you do that.  No peeking ahead!

Okay, let’s get in our time-machine and travel ahead about six hundred years to the time when Jesus walked the earth as a man.  Everybody ready?  Remember to keep your hands inside your seats until we have come to a complete stop. 

There!  We have arrived to about thirty-two years after Jesus was born.  Everybody okay, nobody dizzy?  Great!

If look a little over there to the right of the synagogue you’ll see Jesus in discussion with his disciples.  Or more correctly, the apostles, the twelve core members of his followers.  Jesus has had hundreds and hundreds of disciples following him.  They have crowded so close that several times he was forced into a boat. They have followed him up a mountain.  They even followed him to his home and crowded in so close that his family was fearful. At one point, some men tore the roof from his home to bring a sick friend to him.  They’ve pressed in so close to him that when he stopped and asked, “Who touched me?” his disciples responded, in disbelief that he had asked that question, it seemed to them that everyone had touched him.  In fact, I found a source that says there are around thirty-four scriptures that mention the crowds coming to Jesus.  While it is true that some of those may be duplicated between the four gospels, that still is a lot of crowding.

These disciples followed him for various reasons but mostly because of the signs that he preformed. They had seem him heal the sick, the leprous the blind, the lame and even raise the dead.  He had turned water to wine, feed thousands of people on a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. 

Some followed because they believed that he would be the next king of Israel and free them from the Roman occupation. 

Some followed because of the way he taught with such power and authority. 

Some came because the parables that he told engaged them and caused them to think in ways that they had never considered. 

A few followed because they wanted to trap him into saying or doing something that would turn the people away from him and also stand up in a trial. 

And some … some followed because they believed he was sent from God. 

As we see Jesus today, people are walking away.  The message he gave today in the synagogue in Capernaum had caused a division. The theme of Jesus being the Bread of Life and the Living Water were ones that he had used many times before.  Today the sermon was a little more graphic and it upset people.  “Eat my flesh and drink my blood,” was too hard of a lesson to learn. 

Jesus tells them that the flesh is nothing … the spirit is everything. If you remember back in the book of Genesis; God created man from the dust of the ground.  And then breathe the breath of life, literally the Spirit of Life into him.  Without the spirit, Man is just a pile of dust.

Jesus has just asked the inner twelve for their decision,  Yes or no?  Stay or go?  Peter answers for them all.  And I can just imagine Peter, in his load rough voice, answering.  Not just answering but answering loud enough that his voice carries to those walking away.  “Lord, who could we possible go to?  Your words give eternal life.  Besides, we believe … and more than believe … we know that you are the Holy One of God.”
You and I know from our perspective from the future that the crowds will once more assemble for him on Palm Sunday and we know that most will once again turn away at the trial and crucifixion.  As we get back into our time machine, we see that those once crushing crowds are beginning to drift away leaving only those true believers to continue to faithfully follow. 

This was a true, “Come to Jesus Meeting” and a large number of disciples walked away.  In one way or another, Jesus had not met their expectation.  Yep!  People were still that way during Jesus’ time.  They were still that forgetful, ungrateful, and easily swayed. “What has Jesus done for me today?” 

Now hang on because the bumpiest part of this ride is about to start.  We are returning to our own time.  This is where we are going to be looking around us and inside us.

We are also inheritors of the covenant God first made with Abraham.  We even have the advantage that a major part of that promise has already been fulfilled by the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  We now have the two thousand years of proof of things that they only hoped for.  Certainly, it must be easier for our generation to live up to our end of the covenant.  Right?  We’ve done our job and taken the good news to every corner of the world.  One third of the world’s population call themselves Christians.

If that is still true, someone explain this graph to me.


What is happening?  This is how it appears to me … there are a lot of people who are Christian in name only.  I could be wrong. …  I’d like to be wrong.  But what I’m seeing is people wrapping themselves in the name, Christian, as though it were a magic suit of armor. 

Well I’ll tell you right now that it does not work that way. You can’t get by with just playing “dress up.”  This is a war. If you want a suit of armor, you still have to put it on one piece at a time.  I’ll tell you the same thing that Paul told the church in Ephesus,
“Put on all the armor that God supplies. In this way you can take a stand against the devil’s strategies. This is not a wrestling match against a human opponent. We are wrestling with rulers, authorities, the powers who govern this world of darkness, and spiritual forces that control evil in the heavenly world.  For this reason, take up all the armor that God supplies. Then you will be able to take a stand during these evil days. Once you have overcome all obstacles, you will be able to stand your ground.
So then, take your stand! Fasten truth around your waist like a belt. Put on God’s approval as your breastplate.  Put on your shoes so that you are ready to spread the Good News that gives peace.  In addition to all these, take the Christian faith as your shield. With it you can put out all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Also take salvation as your helmet and God’s word as the sword that the Spirit supplies.
Pray in the Spirit in every situation. Use every kind of prayer and request there is. For the same reason be alert. Use every kind of effort and make every kind of request for all of God’s people.

Consider this your Come to Jesus Meeting.  We are required … No!  We are commanded to care for ourselves, each other, the widows, the orphans, the aliens in our land, and all of God’s children.  Love them, feed them, shelter them, clothe them, heal them … but most of all … tell them the good news that Christ Jesus died that they might live.  The flesh is nothing the Spirit is everything. 

We’re just going to take another short journey, this time into the future.  We’re not going to land, we’re not allowed.  But we’re going to do a flyover just to see what is happening.  Don’t blink ‘cause this’ll have to be really quick.

Look! All of humanity is here.  Everyone who ever was or ever will be is here.  Do you see?  Every knee is bowing and every tongue crying out, “Jesus is Lord!”  However, listen to his response.  To some he is saying, “Well done you good and faithful servant!”  Those are going into the light of eternal life.   However, to others he is saying, “Depart from me you cursed, for you did not do as I commanded to love your neighbor as yourself!”  and those are going into the outer darkness, a complete separation from God.  Our time here is up we must now return to our own time.

I pray, Lord, don’t let this generation be forgetful, ungrateful, and easily swayed. Don’t let us ask, “What has Jesus done for me lately?”  Let us, instead, ask, “What can I do for Jesus today?”  I tell you, “Now is God’s acceptable time!  Now is the day of salvation!”  Have you made your choice?  Yes or no?  Stay or go? 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Famine or Feast?

First Scripture Reading:     John 6:1-15 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.  A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.  Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.  Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.  When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."  One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?"  Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.  When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost."  So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.  When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."  When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Second Scripture Reading:    2 Kings 4:42-44 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God (Elisha): twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, "Give it to the people and let them eat."  But his servant said, "How can I set this before a hundred people?" So he repeated, "Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, 'They shall eat and have some left.'"  He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.

Sermon:  “Famine or Feast?"
We’ve just read two example of how bread was miraculously multiplied.
But what do you think?  Are these stories really about bread?
No, of course not!  These are really examples of God’s economics!  Just look.

Do you remember a couple weeks back I recounted the story of David and Goliath?  These stories are similar to the story of David and Goliath.  In the Goliath story, people saw too big of a problem (Goliath) and too little of a solution (David).  In these stories about Elisha and Jesus, the people see too big of problem (a crowd) and to little of a solution (food).  But in each of these stories God is the answer.  Everyone thought there was a scarcity.  But where we see scarcity, God see abundance.

What is it about God and bread?  There are so many examples linking God and bread.  What is it about bread?   Maybe it is because we all know bread, we have it every day.  The earliest archaeological evidence for an unleavened bread, dates to around 30,000 years ago. 

Did you know that every human culture has some form of bread?  It doesn’t make any difference how primitive and remote a people may live, they bake bread.  All it takes is some form of starch, and water.  I just watched a YouTube video where a guy made bread out of cattail roots.  However, it is still recognizable as bread.  With or without salt, with or without leavening (yeast or soda), it is still bread.  It is everywhere … just like God.

In today’s Gospel reading, both Philip and Andrew were given the opportunity to feed the multitude. They took widely different approaches. 

Philip did a quick count.  “Let’s see, one, two, three!  No better count by tens; ten, twenty … Nope that’ll take too long.  Alright, about a hundred there, and there, and there and …  Hmm, looks like about 5000 men!   And roughly the same number of woman and kids.  So let’s say ten thousand.”  “Okay, now figuring in the current price of bread … multiply by ten thousand, carry the one … and … looking in the communal purse and Nope!  Ain’t gonna happen!  Not if we had a half-year’s wages.  And we don’t.  Sorry, Master, guess we’d better send ‘em home before it gets dark!”

I can imagine Jesus taking a deep breath and thinking about just how to explain to Philip what he has in mind.

Just then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother interrupts, “Um, while you were doing your counting heads and jiggling coins in the purse, I went through the crowd to see who had food.”

Jesus nods and smiles at Andy’s taking the initiative.  “So, what did you find?”

“A bunch of tired and hungry people.”

Jesus smiles and asked, “Didn’t anyone bring any food?”

Andrew answered, “Well there was this one kid who offered his lunch.”

“Great!  How much does he have?”

“Um, a couple fish and five rolls.  But, you know, that just isn’t …”

Jesus interrupts, “Wonderful!  Just enough!  Bring ‘em here!  We’re gonna have a picnic!  Everybody sit.  Sit.  Eat your fill and enjoy.”  Jesus then gave thanks to God for his unsurpassed bounty and broke the bread into chunks and distributed them with the fish to the crowd.

Well, we know what happened!  Everybody ate, burped their approval (really! that was considered polite in that culture!) and then they gathered up the twelve baskets of leftovers.

In our Hebrew Scriptures we read where a farmer brings some of his produce to the prophet.  
“Mister Elisha, sir, here is my tithe of the first fruits of my crops.  Enjoy!” 

Elisha said, “Well done, I love the smell of fresh baked bread.  Bless you!  But there are one hundred hungry men here, give it to them instead.”  

The farmer replies, that’s mighty nice of you but there are only twenty loaves.  That’s not going to be enough … and I don’t have any more.”

Elisha smiles and nods and said, “Just give what you have and see what God can do.  Everyone will be filled and there’ll be leftovers.”

The farmer “sacrificed” a tithe of his produce as a gift to the man of God.  And Elisha sacrificed it all for the well being of others.  Both of them planted a seed from which God could produce a bounty.

Do you remember the story of Ruth from the old testament?  Naomi was living with her married sons in a foreign land.  Both men died and left their widowed wives, Orpah and Ruth, with their mother.  Naomi desires to go home to Israel

Before she leaves she, like a good Jewish mother-in-law, tells the widows, "You girls, such pretty young things, go home.  Find a husband, he should be so lucky to have you.  May the Lord bless.  Marry rich, you should be secure.". Then they hugged and kissed.  But the girls said that they'd rather go with her.

"Whaddaya nuts?  Do ya think this old lady is gonna give birth to some new sons for you?  God forbid!" was Naomi's reaction.  Orpah (not Oprah) took the advice and left.  But Ruth said, "Where you go, I go.  Where you live, I'll live.  Your people and your God will be my people and my God."

Naomi winks and replied, "For you I've got a fella.  He’s family, rich and not bad on the eyes, name of Boaz.  I'll introduce you."

They return to Israel and Ruth goes to work for Boaz in the field.  He sees her and one thing leads to another. Boaz said to her, "Come over here, and help yourself to some food.  You can dip your bread in the sour wine.”  So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat.  She ate all she wanted and still had some left over.Very loosely from the book of Ruth

Again, bread.  Again, leftovers.

Ruth sacrificed her home, all that she had ever known to follow Naomi.  She gained a husband and had a son, Obed.  Obed was the father of Jesse, the father of David, from who’s line Jesus entered the world.

Are you beginning to make a connection here?

Back to our story of Jesus and the barley loaves and fish.  Have you ever wondered what happened to the leftovers?  God is not just a God of abundance but also of overflowing blessings.Malachi 3:10  I don't have proof, but I believe that, because the little boy gave his lunch into God's service, he received the overflow.  That seems to me the way God’s economy works.  To those who give, God opens the windows of heaven and pours out an overflowing blessing.

In each of these stories God required some seed.  Someone had to give something to get the whole blessing thing going.  Yes, sometimes God just gives.  But more often than not, someone has to step up and make a sacrifice first.

I remember working with my kids to make rock candy.  It is a simple process.  You take a container of hot water and then you dissolve as much sugar in it as you possible can.  Now you take a piece of string and dip it into sugar and suspend it in the jar.  Then you wait. And wait.  And D-A-D!  when is going to be candy?  And wait!  And then something begins to grow on the string.  Crystal by crystal it begins to grow on that string.  Now I’m telling you this because If you don’t add some sugar to that string, that jar of sugary water can sit there for a long long extremely long time without anything happening … eventually, the water evaporates and leaves a sold chunk of sugar on the bottom of the jar.  You have to provide the seed sugar for the candy to form.

The same principle applies to rain and snow.  There has to be some dust or pollen in that cloud for the rain or snow to adhere to.

Farmers and gardeners understand this seeding principle.  You have to sacrifice a seed to produce more seed.

This is God’s economy.

Where are the scarcities in your life? 

I grew up poor.  I didn’t know that we were poor.  Some things might have been a clue:  My mother and I lived in a converted chicken house for several years.  I remember taking lard and sugar sandwiches for my school lunches.  Does that sound like scarcity to you?

Now let me tell you the rest of the story.  The reason Mom and I lived in that building, which had most recently been my Father’s sewing machine shop, was because my brother, his wife, and three or four kids needed a place to stay.  Mom and I lived in a small five room house on an acreage.  When my brother and family needed a place to live, Mom didn’t see the scarcity.  She saw the chance to have her son and grandkids close to her. 

That chicken house had been moved next to the house and converted into a sewing machine shop when, due to failing health, my father needed to move his business from downtown Des Moines.  He had been dead for several years and the shop was no longer used.  A little rearranging and it became suitable if not lavish place for us to live so that my brother and family could live in the original house.  Mom “sacrificed” her house to make a home for my brother and we gained a larger, tighter family group. What had been a small five room house now came to be called, “the Big House.”  The house hadn’t changed size, just our perspective was changed. 

As for food, we had an acreage full of fruit and vegetables, we raised chickens for eggs and meat, the cellar was stocked with home canned goods, thanks to Mom’s hard work.  We ate healthy, home grown food.  Yes, money was scarce after my Father died, but we owned the home and had few expenses.  The Lord provided.  And I never knew we were poor.

Many years ago, Ella and I sat down and imagined our dream home.  It would be on many acres of wooded land outside the city far enough but not so far to make travel difficult.  It would have a large house with a huge kitchen for preparing meals for our family and friends.  And of course the house would have a view of the private lake where we could fish with our grandkids.  We said that it would be nice to have some places for friends with RVs to come and stay with full hook ups.  Sounds nice, huh?

That dream vanished when we got rid or our big old Victorian four bedroom house and moved into our first RV to live fulltime.  We went through some MAJOR downsizing.  We sold, gave and donated a lot of our “stuff” that we’d accumulated and still had to trash a lot of it.  We created our own scarcity.

Several years ago after a communal meal at Cutty’s Campground, we were looking out the window at the beautiful lake, when Ella got this surprised expression on her face and said, “This is my dream home!”  A quick look around and I realized she was right.  God had given us everything that we had dreamed of … just not in the way we had imagined.  Again, a change of perspective.  By sacrificing our house, we gained everything that we had dreamed of!

God is constantly surprising me with the way He answers prayer.  Seldom does the answer come in the say I’d expected it.  I think He does that on purpose so that I’ll recognize the answer when it comes.

Maybe God has a bounty available to us that we are just not seeing.

Sometimes when we focus on that last crumb of bread we see starvation.  However, God replies, “They shall eat their fill and have leftovers.”  


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Woe to the Shepherds



Jeremiah 23:1-6

      Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
     The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness."


Sermon: “Woe to the shepherds”

In the book of Jeremiah God calls him to be His prophet and to stand up against the false prophets of the day. God tells him that, “They have spoken falsely of the Lord, and said, ‘He will do nothing. No evil will come upon us, and we shall not see sword or famine.’ The prophets are nothing but wind, for the word is not in them.”5:12-13 He is called to stand up to the leaders of Israel and Judah and call them whores. He tells them how disappointed and angry God is with them for breaking the covenant that he had made with Israel. He even tells them that God is sickened by their pretentiousness at calling Him their Father since they have so blatantly turned from His teachings.3:4-5

Jeremiah is nearly all about how God was going to remove his hand from the land and let their enemies over run them and carry them off to captivity in distant lands. But God holds out a hope that He will be able to instruct a new generation and they will recreate the broken relationship between God and His people. Again and again He begs His children to repent calling out, “Return, O faithless children. I will heal your faithlessness.”3:22

The prophet Jeremiah lived about six centuries before the birth of Jesus. His writings were about the troubles he saw in his own time. He (through the power of God) laid the blame for all the problems on the very people tasked with leading them. Six hundred years later Jesus made the same observations in His time on earth. And a simple look at our own time shows that the same things are still occurring. God’s people are being lead astray by the very people who should be leading them to God.

In Jeremiah’s time there were “prophets” who were telling the people what they wanted to hear; that all was well and good and there was nothing to fear. Jeremiah, on the other hand, was prophesying about the coming dispersal of the Jews to other lands and the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Not only does Jeremiah predict this, he also (as the voice of God) lays the blame on the supposed religious leaders and people in power. God says, “Their houses are full of treachery; therefore they have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek, they know no limits in deeds of wickedness, they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.”5:27-28 For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain, and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely.”6:13

Through his prophet, God also gives the good news that He will gather His people from every land and will provide a king from David’s family that will deal wisely, be just and righteous. The Lord said, “For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors for ever and ever.”7:5-7

In the first chapter of Jeremiah it recounts his “call”. “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” And what was Jeremiah’s reaction? “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”1:4-5 But God chose to give this boy the power over nations and kingdoms to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”1:10

The messages that Jeremiah brought to the rulers of the people were harsh. God was accusing them of pulling away from him and following after false gods. That would be bad enough, but he also convicts them of leading others away from him. Instead of being good shepherds of God’s people, they were leading them to death and destruction. He said, “Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers have transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.”2:5 In poetic language, God says that He has these two things against them: abandoning Him and His teachings and laws, leading His children to destruction.

Now let’s skip ahead six centuries and see what Jesus has to say about those who handle the law, the rulers and the prophets. In Matthew 15 we read where the Pharisees and scribes (read that as rulers and keepers of the Law) ask Jesus why His disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate. Jesus responds, “And why do you break the commandments of God for the sake of your tradition?”15:2-3 Does that not sound like exactly what Jeremiah was condemning Israel for in ages past? Jesus goes on to warn his disciples to beware the teachings of the Pharisees and Saducees.16:12 He also warned them and us, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray.”Matt 24:4-5 He laments over their unwillingness to return to God when he says, “O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kill the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”Luke 13:34

Throughout the gospels we read of the Pharisees coming to Jesus with trick questions about paying taxes (both temple and Roman), about adultery, about divorce, about marriage in heaven, about working on the Sabbath, and on and on. Never, never, never! does it end well for those seeking to entrap Jesus. Every time that they think they have a fool proof plan, a plan that which ever way Jesus answers, they will be able to charge him with breaking either the Jewish law or the Roman law, he turns it around on them. How frustrated they must have been. No wonder that Jesus tells the people that, because the rulers sit on the throne of Moses (figuratively), what they say is to be obeyed. But he also warns not to do as the Pharisees do because they make impossible rules that they themselves can not follow but by which they will judge the people.

Okay, now I’m a little afraid to do this, however, shall we take a look at our own time? What has changed in the twenty one centuries since Christ walked the earth? Or for that matter in the twenty seven since Jeremiah? Keep in mind that in Jeremiah’s and Jesus’ times the religious leaders were also the political rulers. In our day, of course we have a division between church and state. To examine our time, we are going to need to take a look at the condition of religious and political leaders.

Because of the mandate of our camping club, this worship is non-denominational and non-partisan. That means, I’m trying to tip toe through a mine field here. But it scares me to death to read Jeremiah and hear him issuing the same condemnation to us. Are we dealing justly with the widow, the orphan the poor, and the alien in our land? Do we say “Father, you are the friend of my youth. But continued to do all the evil we can?”3:4-5 Let me ask you, with out naming names, can you give examples of our leaders, religious and secular that appear to be disconnected from God and/or leading the people away from God?

I really want your input here. I’ll start by saying that I hear and read too many evangelists and pastors preaching a religion of prosperity. That is, telling people that if they follow their teachings (and buy their books, DVDs, and whatever) that their lives are going to be all cake and ice cream. That money will come pouring in and they’ll never be sick. That just doesn’t match up with the realities of life. If you want to know what being a Christian means, look at the lives of Jesus’ apostles. They lived hard, persecuted lives and most died untimely deaths. God promises that he will be with us during life’s trials … not that we will not have to go through them.

(take some time here to facilitate a discussion with the congregation.

Be careful to not allow it to become a “name calling” rant)

There were some good points brought up. It is fairly easy for us to point out the errors that others are making. Jesus warns that before we remove the splinter from our bother’s eye, we must first remove the log that is in ours.Mat 7:5 So, before we become too smug, let me remind us that every Christian … e-v-e-r-y Christian has a God given task to perform for the glory of God. So remember, as a Priesthood of Believers 1Pet 2:5, we are all … all leaders. Yep! This is where I begin to meddle.

I don’t know what the Lord has called you to do. I just know that you are called to be and active part of God’s plan. So, whatever you are called to do I just know that there are no none-working parts of the body of Christ.

I was called to preach. And I promise to never, knowingly give you false information. And sometimes it scares me that I might misspeak or unknowingly mislead you. I pray before each time I preach that, no matter what I say, His words will be heard. I know that it works because I’ve had people come up to me after a service and excitedly tell the service that they heard, and I think to myself, “That’s sounds great, I wish I’d have said it.”

The great commission … the last commandment given by Jesus was, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” “Go to the whole world and proclaim the good news.” The good news is that God kept his promise that he would raise up a leader from the line of David. Jesus the Christ came and paid the price and settled the debt that was owed to God. We have proof where the people of the Old Testament had only hope. That commandment to “go and tell” is for every Christian. “But wait,” you say, “I’m not a missionary. I can’t go into the whole world.” That may be true, however you can go into YOUR world. We each come into contact with people all the time. We may be the only Christian that some people will ever know. Our mission field need not be in some distant land. It may be in our own home, neighborhood, work place, club, grocery store … get the picture?

We have a job to do. Not all jobs are the same. However, all jobs are of equal importance to the Kingdom of God. Scripture says, “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.Eph 4:11” “Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church: first are apostles, second are prophets, third are teachers, then those who do miracles, those who have the gift of healing, those who can help others, those who have the gift of leadership, those who speak in unknown languages.1 Cor 12:28” Remember that we are the body of Christ 1Cor 12:27 in this present age. And all of us are to use our God given talents to further His kingdom.

Now that we understand that we all are a leaders … shepherds, how do we insure that we are leading down the right path? If you are looking for and easy answer like, go to church regularly, forget it. It takes work to be prepared. It is necessary to be immersed in the Word of God, the Bible.

There are so many Bibles … so many translations. Find several that you can understand. For many people the King James Version with it’s Old English and archaic terms, just doesn’t make sense. I grew up with two versions of the Bible: King James and the New World Translation (which is used by Jehovah’s Witnesses). It was in reading both and seeing differences (discrepancies) between them that first got me to reading many translations of the Bible. A good study Bible with Parallel translations is very useful.

Since I can not read the original writings of any of the many contributors to the Old and New Testament books, I must rely on other’s research. Because I am relying on the work of others, I am careful to compare with other works. If I begin to see that the author(s) of a certain version are letting their own interpretation or denominational bias influence the translation, I discard it. .

Do not be fooled into thinking that only preacher, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries need to study the Bible. I don’t care if your place in the kingdom of God is a “non speaking part.” You may be the one called upon to sweep the floor or drive a truck. If you are doing it for God, you need to know what God expects of you. You have to read the instruction book, the owner’s manual, the Bible. There is no other way to be positive that you are not following the wrong shepherd.

Now understand that reading the Bible is not the same as studying it. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.” 2 Tim 3:16 Do not read it like you would a book of fiction. Read it more like a cookbook. Look for the proper ingredients to build your life on God’s foundation. Read it to gain understanding and to accomplish something. When you read a passage of scripture stop and think about it. Seek to understand the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of the passage and most importantly ask, “What does this mean to me?” There are many good “daily devotionals” to help you get started. I recommend that you use one. However, they do not replace your own study of the scriptures. Only by studying to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth”2 Tim 2”:15 can we be sure of being on solid ground. Jesus has said that, “My sheep know my voice.”John 10:27 Studying is the only sure way to learn the voice of the Master Shepherd.

Okay, now we are becoming grounded in the word, now pray. Pray. Pray. Pray. We are to stay connected with God. Prayers do not need to be long, elaborate and eloquent. Prayers just need to come from your heart and your mind. We know how to stay connected with friends and family … we have cell phones, smart phones, iPads, computers, social media, land lines and hand written letters. Put God on your speed dial (figuratively). Go to God in small instant prayers. I’ve been known to look at a beautiful sunset and say, “Yeah, God!” I’ve seen a reckless driver and whispered, “Lord, keep him and those around him from harm.” Sometimes, at the end of my rope, I’ve just said, “Help!” We have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit available to us and He will guide, council and comfort us if we but listen.

Years ago I heard a woman telling about one time when she was standing in a checkout line. She was quietly thinking of some blessing in her life and the word, “Jesus” slipped from her lips. The cashier quickly asked, “What’s the matter?” Isn’t that sad that she automatically thought this woman was cursing? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if enough people would say a word of praise out loud that those hearing us would automatically think we are praying instead of cursing? Stay connected with God through prayer. Talk to him as you would a friend, a teacher, or a parent. Pray for others. Make a list if you need to. Pray for yourself, your family, your friends, your coworkers, the pastor, the teachers, the police, the firemen, the politicians and people in power locally, nationally and world wide.

Stay connected with Godly people. “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Heb 10:25 Remember that we are separate from the world, it is not our home, we are only passing through it. And the journey is easier with fellow travelers. We have been commanded to love one another as Jesus loves us.John 13:34 & 15:12 It was important enough that the gospel of John records Jesus saying it twice. And it isn’t a suggestion … it is a command. Find a Christian community where you can go to help and be helped, to be counseled and to council. Some days we’re the sheep and some days we are the shepherd.

Okay, here may be the hardest part of all. I said that we are separate from the world however, that does not mean we are not in the world. We need to reach out to those who are still lost, to those who have not heard or have not accepted the good news. Once we are standing on the solid ground of scripture we can lift others out of the muck and mire of this sinful world. Share! By your words, your actions, and deeds show the Christ within you to the world. And look for Christ in others. For example: it is a good thing to help someone in need; however, it is a great thing to do it as though you were doing it for Jesus. “As you have done to the least of these my brothers, you have done it for me.” Mat 25:41 Give, never expecting anything in return.Luke 6:34 Deal justly with the widow, the orphan the poor, and the alien in our land? So that we never hear the indictment, “Woe to you shepherd”. Amen.


Jeremiah, Jesus, God, Sermon, Prophets, False Prophets, Shepherds, Christians, Holy Spirit

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

What Moves You?

Sermon: “What Moves You?”

Singing, music and dancing before the Ark of the Covenant is mentioned three times in this passage (2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19*). I’ve learned that when scriptures repeat themselves it is because it is important. It is a way of telling me to slow down and think about what I’ve read. All scripture is given for our instruction … so what is this passage trying to teach me?

In our reading of second Samuel we learn that the Ark of the Covenant was being returned to Israel. A little history may be needed here.

The Ark of the Covenant was a gold covered wooden box which contained the Lord of Hosts, was surrounded by golden winged cherubim/angels. It was made to specifications given by God during the years of wandering after the children of Israel fled Egypt. It contained the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, a container of manna, and the covenant between God and Israel Moses’ writings on parchment.. From the area above the Ark God issued His commands for His people.

Some of you may remember the movie of Indiana Jones’ fictionalized search for the Ark. It was scary to watch the supernatural explosion that arose out of the opened ark. In the movie, there was a mixture of the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box and Revelation’s judgment day.

So, take away the special effects and what do we have? The most sacred words of God, if not God, himself, the Holy History of Israel, from the wilderness to the Promise Land and finally it is returned to the anointed King David.

In the fourth chapter of first Samuel we read how the Ark was captured by the Philistines. Israel was once again fighting a defensive war against the Philistine army … and they were loosing. So they decided to bring the Ark to the battle. Understand this was man’s decision and not God’s. They were using it like a good luck charm. And it didn’t work. The philistines won the battle and captured the Ark.

They took it and placed it next to the statue of their god. The next day they found the statue in pieces lying on the ground... Next the people started developing tumors. The Philistines kept moving the Ark from place to place. However, wherever it was taken, people died and had tumors. Finally they made arrangements to take the Ark back to the boarder with Israel and leave it there along with an offering. This is where today’s reading begins.

The Ark, literally the point of contact with God, was being returned, everyone’s enthusiasm was at a fever pitch. The musicians were working those lyres, harps tambourines, castanets, and cymbals. There were choirs of singers belting out praise songs. And David was getting his groove on and rockin’ to the tunes as the spirit moved him.Image result for sermon king david danced before the ark

David strips off all of his royal finery and dances exuberantly as the Ark of the Covenant is brought to its resting place in Jerusalem, the new capital. It is a dance full of life, celebrating the joy of the presence of God entering the city that will become the center of worship.

David wasn’t the only one moved to dance. The scriptures say all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might. Their joy turned to dance and music and the music and dance heightened the joy in a kind of feedback loop that just kept becoming more intense.

I have tried to imagine what that day was like to the people of Israel. Their point of contact with the living God was returned to its rightful place. Since we can go directly to God at any time, it is hard for me to imagine what the loss and then return of the ark did to the spiritual and emotional lives of those in that time and place.

It is hard to come up with a modern equivalent. Maybe a giant Super Bowl party after your team has won? Nope! That just isn’t big enough. Perhaps the celebrations at the end of World War Two would come close. Imagine the whole nation in exuberant celebration and feasting.

David’s dancing may have been part of a prolonged and complex liturgical procession. The details are long lost, but its intensity remains in the description of David's whirling and leaping. His gyrations almost convey a mood of desperation. David might well be terrified of the power of this Ark should anything go wrong before he got it home. After all, it was returned by the Philistines because of the catastrophes that seemed to follow it. And one Israelite has already died because he touched it.

Not everyone was moved the same way that day. Michal, David’s wife and the daughter of King Saul, had a negative reaction to David’s dancing in the streets. A superficial reading of the text makes it sound as if David must have exposed himself. What happened, in fact, is that David saw the return of the Ark as a solemn occasion. And he saw it unfit for himself to wear his royal garments, and instead he wore a very simple garment.

Michal seemed to be really angry for David’s perceived impropriety. However, we must look at the context in which this celebration takes place. God had turned his face against King Saul, her father, and God had blessed David and promised him a Kingdom and a Covenant that would last forever. That's part of the story in Samuel. It is not surprising that Michal would despise her husband David, because he was about to take her father’s throne, and she knew it.

A point can be made that David’s first and deepest allegiance was to God. And he saw it only fitting to dance in celebration of the God who had chosen him and his descendants to be a covenant partner forever. David felt it to be inappropriate to come as the King of Israel before God, - but rather as a common servant and partner with the people of God. Instead, David acknowledged the Kingship and Rule of God in Israel. In this context he perceived his royal garments to be an impediment to worship God in humility and truth.

When God calls us to be His covenant partners we are wise to remove all impediments that may stand between God and us. Rather than elevating ourselves before God, we are called to humility and awe before the God who has saved us. God is King! And He deserves our humblest devotion and praise.

As we celebrate and rejoice before God, as David and the Israelites did, we pass on the inheritance of our faith to generations yet to come. Our children and grandchildren will assimilate that which is most important to us. Therefore, may God’s praise flow richly from our lives.

We are chosen by Jesus Christ to celebrate God’s love and grace toward us. We are invited to be expressive in our gratitude toward God. The Christian life is a life of joy and celebration. It was the joy and hope that I saw in Christian friends that brought me to Christ. I wanted that peace that they had even in times of trouble.

When our lives are touched by the love of God, His grace flows into this world through the channel of our love, healing it, straightening its twistedness, mending its brokenness, and enlightening its darkness. That is the celebration of the Christian life - to touch the lives of others and so invite them to experience the blessings of God. We have been promised a cup overflowing. All of that “extra” is to be shared with those around us. Christianity is an outward looking religion. We received as so we share. We are servants not masters.

Our Lord invites us to be intentional about our celebration of God’s grace. Let us express God’s praise in every breath we take. Let us be a people who enthusiastically celebrate the goodness of God.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, Brown paper packages tied up with strings, These are a few of my favorite things.  Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels, Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles, Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings, These are a few of my favorite things.  Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes, Silver white winters that melt into springs, These are a few of my favorite things.

When you hear that list of favorite things did you have an emotional response to some or all of those? Sights, sounds, scents, touch, movement and more can elicit an emotional response. The reverse is also true. An emotion can lead to a physical response.

Imagine that you are driving along peacefully when some idiot speeds up to pass you and then slams on their brakes to take the next exit! Anger will make your jaw clench and your hands to ball into fists that pound on the steering wheel while you yell obscenities questioning his parentage. Don’t raise your hands, but does that sound a little familiar?

You are enjoying a sunny summer day listening to the birds sing. And then you receive a call that a close relative has died suddenly. Grief will make your shoulders slumped and your knees buckle and the day somehow seems darker and colder than before.

You are walking through an unfamiliar part of town and half of the street lights are out. Suddenly, someone steps out of doorway right in front of you. Fear will make you recoil and your arms go up in an effort to protect yourself.

You are watching the football game in your local high school’s stadium as your team plays against their arch rivals. The game is tied with only seconds to go when your quarterback throws a “hail Mary” pass that is caught in the end zone! Joy will make you jump and shout.

Music taps straight into our emotions and can lead us to highs and lows. Music moves us. It is hard wired into us. Watch a toddler wiggle and shake to music. I’ve seen Alzheimer and dementia patients who seem totally disconnected from the world tap their feet or move their hands to the rhythm of the music. Every Sunday throughout the world, Christians gather and sing together. Many are songs of praise and many are hymns full of solid theology. This sharing of words is a way to bring us closer to God and to each other. Singing together brings us into rhythm with each other. The repletion of the words can imprint on our unconscious mind in a way unlike any other form of learning. Andrew Fletcher, a Scottish politician and writer, understood this when he said, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.”

I often find myself whistling or humming the tune to a hymn. As I recall the words it helps to move me closer to my God. I wonder how our faith and the faith of those around us might be affected if we sang and danced our way to church. How would non-church people perceive us? Would they think we were drunk (as the crowds thought the disciples were on that first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon them), or would they be so moved by the enthusiasm that they joined in?

What moves you? Is it the spirit of the world or the Spirit of God?

May God’s Spirit move us to be free in our celebration of Him who saves us, and who dwells in our midst.  Amen.

*2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.
6:2 David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, 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.
6:3 They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart
6:4 with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark.
6:5 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.

6:12b So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing;
6:13 and when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling.
6:14 David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.
6:15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
6:16 As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal 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.
6:17 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.
6:18 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,
6:19 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.

While most of this sermon is original material, I have borrowed some portions from helps found on and from a sermon preached on July 15, 2012 By Rev. Dr. Deborah Lind-Schmitz At Covenant Presbyterian Church, Madison, Wisconsin. And, of course the words from the song, “Favorite Things”.