GCI Equipper

“Remember Me”

What did Jesus want us to remember?

I’ve watched a number of people die over my lifetime. Some died quickly, some were tortured by disease and suffering for months, even years. I’ve watched family members fight cancer and other diseases, and I’ve seen bodies shrivel from the effects of disease. I’ve lost six siblings, my parents, most of my aunts and uncles, a few cousins and all my grandparents. And I remember each one.

I remember many great conversations, some fantastic adventures, numerous laughs, some tears, incredible stories. I love telling stories to anyone willing to listen—the stories help me remember. I don’t share the suffering, the pain, the anguish and the final moments before death. I remember, but those aren’t the memories I want to focus on. I want to focus on good memories—the things that make me miss those beloved family members. Sometimes on a birthday or anniversary, a special memory comes to mind that brings a smile, and sometimes a tear. I love to remember.

Jesus told us to remember him and he gave us two amazing everyday items that help us remember him—bread and wine (fruit of the vine). He gave us the sacrament of communion as a means of remembering him—yesterday, today and forever. In other words, for who he was before his birth, who he was during his physical life, and who he is for eternity. “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). What exactly does he want us to remember?

For many years I’ve heard communion messages that focused on remembering the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. I’ve heard well-meaning people share details of Roman torture, floggings, prison and the pain Jesus went through. I’ve participated in more somber communion services than I can count. And I submit, we are missing the point. We are missing what Jesus did first.

 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me. (Luke 22:19)

Jesus took a piece of bread and he gave thanks for it. He praised the Father for the blessing. Then he took that piece (loaf) of bread and broke it up to share it and pointed out that the bread was symbolic of his body. When the disciples took the bread, they were all eating part of one loaf. They weren’t examining the crusts of the bread to see how it was broken, for they had no idea Jesus’ body would soon be broken. They realized Jesus was saying you are a part of me, and I am a part of you. (John tells us they didn’t understand a lot of things until after he was glorified.) Earlier Jesus had told them he was the bread of life. So in giving them a part of that bread, he is reminding them of their communion with him and his communion with them. This is what he wants them to remember.

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20)

Jesus is sharing something new—a new covenant. “My blood is poured out for you.” Now, they obviously didn’t understand the implications of this. As far as we know, Jesus was not bleeding at the time. They saw this as symbolic of his love for them. A few minutes later Jesus emphasized this love when he said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Again, they did not fully comprehend until he was glorified.

Jesus wants us to remember his life and his love—all given to us. The bread emphasizes that Jesus gave us life—all his life. He became human for us, he was baptized for us, he was obedient for us, he died for us, he rose for us and he lives for us today. It’s all for us. The cup represents his love for us. He was willing to shed his blood for us. He proved his love by becoming human, being baptized, being obedient, dying on a cross, rising from the grave and ascending to the Father. All because he loves us. He is love.

Jesus wants us to remember who he is – the Son of the Father, the mediator, the rescuer, the Messiah, the Savior, the friend, the older brother, the advocate, the bridegroom, the deliverer, the good shepherd, the door, the way, the life, the resurrection, the great high priest, Emmanuel, the I AM. He wants us to know how much he loves us. He is our Rock, the prince of peace, our hope, the truth, the true vine, the wonderful counselor, the victorious one.

Communion should first and foremost be a time of celebrating our life in Christ. We remember that it is only in him that we are forgiven, adopted, made righteous, made holy, included and loved unconditionally. We remember what he taught us; we remember what he did for us; we remember what he is doing for us. In communion we see the comprehensive, intentional work of Jesus to sacrificially connect to humanity for our redemption, salvation, sanctification and glorification—all so we can be in relationship with him for eternity. All because of his great love for us.

We remember him by sharing the stories of his life, death, resurrection and ascension. We remember him by sharing our testimonies of how he has changed us. We remember him by sharing his love and his life with others.

Remembering his love and life,
Rick Shallenberger

PS. During this time of “Shelter in Place” many want to take communion. Here is an article on taking Communion at Home.

A Burning Platform

The fear of the unknown…the fear of change…can and often does prove to be deadly when it comes to the life of a congregation.

By Tim Sitterley, US West Regional Director

At nine-thirty on a July evening in 1988, Andy Mochan was rousted from his sleep…first by alarm bells…and then the massive explosion that rocked the Piper Alpha oil-drilling platform in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. Badly injured in the blast, Andy made his way up from his quarters to the surface of the rig’s platform, only to find everything around him engulfed in flames. The only other option to remaining on the platform lay fifteen stories below him. Although the surface of the near-freezing water was covered with burning oil and debris, Andy jumped. One hundred and sixty-six crew members lost their lives. Andy survived his fall.

When asked why he took such a potentially fatal leap, Andy’s reply was a simple one. “It was either jump or fry.” Andy evaluated the situation and realized that the cost of remaining on the burning platform was just too high. Despite the risks, taking a leap of faith offered him the only true chance of surviving. He chose probable death over inevitable death.

Andy Mochan’s story became a metaphor for business survival when author and business consultant Daryl Conner shared the account in his book Leading at the Edge of Chaos. Of the many examples of “burning platforms” that he wrote of, the story of Barnes & Noble vs Borders Books stands out. When Amazon released the first Kindle in 2007, Barnes & Noble saw the potential impact an E-reader would have on the sales of hard-copy books. They could see their business platform was on fire. Rather than ignoring the problem, as Borders did, they chose to take a major leap of faith and introduce the Nook. By 2009 the Nook surpassed the Kindle in sales and saved the company. In contrast, Borders declared bankruptcy in 2010.

Just as it does in the business world, the Burning Platform metaphor should resonate within the church community. A hundred years ago churches were a safe and stable platform in the community. Blue laws protected Sunday morning from the encroachment of the business world. Tax laws protected the church’s revenue and property. Membership of a congregation was simply assumed, and denominational loyalty ruled the day.

Today however, the church faces a vast array of flames. Loyalty to a particular denomination is a thing of the past. Rampant consumerism pits congregation against congregation for a shrinking demographic of church-going Christians. Secularism dominates the culture. And for too many years, when it comes to the importance of the gospel, the unbelieving world has been sitting well, and the church has been presenting the truth badly.

GCI’s focus and emphasis on Healthy Church was birthed from the realization that many of our existing “platforms” are on fire. How we are represented in our community (the Love Avenue), the experience new and existing members encounter in our weekly worship gatherings (the Hope Avenue), and the level of transformational discipleship offered in our congregations (the Faith Avenue) are all at risk if we continue to cling to platforms that are no longer viable in today’s world.

The Hope Avenue is a good case-in-point.

It is rare to find a GCI congregation that is not struggling with new-member retention. Visitors may come (assuming the congregation is visible to the outside world), but they do not stay. And yet attempts to address the weekly worship experience are often met with resistance. The seven deadly words of a dying congregation (we have always done it this way) are all too often the mantra we hear when proposing change. Somebody was definitely on to something when he defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Hope avenue burning platforms run the gamut from where we meet, what day we meet on, what time we meet, how intentional we are to providing a true worship experience, how much we invest in the physical aspects of our gathering (sound/projection/decorations/bulletins/etc.)…all the way down to what does a first-time visitor experience in the parking lot. We cling to the existing platforms because they feel safer than taking a leap of faith. And we buy into the lie that our long-time members are all satisfied with the status quo. Often they are just as frustrated, but terrified of the leap into the unknown.

And the fear of the unknown, the fear of change, can and often does prove to be deadly when it comes to the life of a congregation. The “what if’s” can be crippling. With a church permanently closing its doors in this country every 17 minutes, the flames should be evident to the greater Body of Christ. They are clearly evident to the leadership in GCI, and we have entered into this multi-year endeavor to address the threats, and more importantly, to demystify the needed changes. As Daryl Conner puts it:

Contrary to how some people relate to the term “burning platform,” I don’t see it as a story of disaster. To me it’s a tale of courage and tenacity that illustrates the commitment necessary to face the risk and uncertainty inherent in departing from the current state of affairs.

A number of years ago I met a young woman who clearly faced a “burning platform” in her life. An experienced skydiver, she faced a total parachute malfunction. Her primary chute deployed but failed to open. Pulling her emergency ripcord should have cut the main chute free, but instead her reserve chute simply wrapped around the main, forming a long streamer that was doing nothing more than shaking her into near unconsciousness. Knowing that this condition would result in a fatal landing, she did the unthinkable. With a small knife she carried to cut tangled shroud lines she cut herself free from both chutes and went back into stable freefall.

An experienced skydiver has considerable control in freefall, so when she noticed a series of round pools of water on the ground below, she changed her fall trajectory and hit one of the pools at near terminal velocity. The pool was a settling pond for the city sewage disposal plant, but somehow she survived the impact (with multiple injuries) and lived to tell me the tale. She also gave new meaning to the term “leap of faith.”

My prayer is that moving forward, we will be honest in our examination of what we have been clinging to, and where we need to cut ourselves free from practices that offer almost certain death for our congregations. Whether it’s stepping out into our neighborhood, reevaluating our worship services and calendar, or reimagining our small group ministries, it’s time to overcome our fear of the unknown and take that leap of faith. And most importantly, to be constantly aware of the promise Jesus made shortly before his ascension: that we are never alone when we leave the platform. Whether it’s burning water or a less-than-savory settling pond, he has promised that he would be with us through the fall and there when we land. And as a denomination, I suspect he is the one pushing us toward the edge in the first place.

He Loves Us to The End

Things Jesus may want us to see about his love for us during Holy Week.

By Jeff Broadnax, US East Associate Regional Director

Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem to shouts of “hosanna” and a few days later, his disciples would experience that same city echoing the sounds of “crucify him.”

None of this surprised Jesus, who knew this final week would end in the salvation of humanity. Our Lord demonstrated his love in ways that ought to cause us to stop, reflect and praise him. It truly was a “holy week” and one worth celebrating. Following are some key moments during holy week that we in GCI embrace and celebrate.

Jesus’ triumphal entry (John 12:13-18, Matt 21:1-9, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:29-38)

The celebration of this event normally takes place on the Sunday prior to Easter, a day the Christian community calls Palm Sunday. On this day, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey after people spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road in honor. As he entered the city, the people shouted “Hosanna,” which in Hebrew means “Save us.”

This moment celebrates the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies of Zechariah 9:9 and Isaiah 62:11, and allowed the Jews to celebrate the true king from David’s throne (1 Kings 1:28-38).

Jesus was establishing himself as the victorious and triumphant king of Israel. He is the king who rules in a love that empowers us to walk in our everyday life in victory because of what he has done!

Prayer thought—Ask God to help you approach Palm Sunday with the assurance that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords of the world and of your individual life. Because of that, we praise God for his assurance that nothing can stand against him.

Cleansing of the temple (Matt 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18)

Jesus entered Jerusalem, looked around and saw that this place of worship and repentance had been disrespectfully turned into a place of idolatry. People’s focus was on themselves and their power and wealth, not on submission and praise to the Holy One in heaven.

Jesus turned over the tables of the abusers of the people to restore the house of God to its original and glorious purpose – a place to seek repentance and to prayerfully and worshipfully seek the Father with all our mind, heart, soul and spirit.

Prayer thought—Pray that anything that you might do that misuses your temple—(body, mind, heart and soul)—be restored and submitted to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord’s Supper/Maundy Thursday (Matt 26:17-27:31; Mk 14:12- 15:20; Lk 22:7-23:25; Jn. 13:1-19:16)

The verse we began this article with begins a chain of events—leading to the crucifixion—that show Jesus was fully human and fully divine and the only person capable of serving as our blameless sacrifice, our master, our king, our high priest, and our eternal intercessor.

Jesus takes us from the upper room, where he washes feet and introduces the new covenant communal symbols. He then teaches about his love, warns the disciples about the immediate future, prays for them, gives them a new commandment and fills them with hopeful anticipation for the Holy Spirit. He invites them to the garden to pray about the cup he must drink. He is then betrayed, abandoned, mocked, beaten, rejected, denied, challenged and tortured.   Yet through it all he is resolute that they will see him “coming in the clouds of heaven.”

Prayer thought—As you prayerfully walk through these verses and see all that Jesus taught, went through and prayed on this powerful evening, you can thank him for loving you enough be tempted in every way like we experience and yet not sin?

Crucifixion—Good Friday (Matt 27:27-56; Mk 15:16-41; Lk 23:26-49; Jn. 19:17-30)

This is the day Christ secured our salvation. Generally, we focus most of our attention on the crucifixion or as John wrote it, “the full extent of his love.” Because he was slain from the foundation of the world, we don’t usually have a hard time appreciating the depth of his sacrifice. But have you ever considered what the crucifixion must have been like for the soldiers who mocked him, the man commandeered to carry his cross through the streets, the people who cried out for his crucifixion, his mother or disciples, or those in the temple when the veil was torn from top to bottom?

How about Barabbas or the two insurrectionists on the cross with him? What did Jesus intend for his crucifixion to mean for them? When he said, “it is finished,” what did Jesus want humanity to understand?

Prayer thought—Ask God to help you truly understand what Jesus meant when he said, “It is finished.” What is finished? What does that mean to you and me? Ask God to help you understand who Jesus was referring to when he said, “Father forgive them…” Is there anyone God did not include in that forgiveness? Let’s pray we don’t exclude anyone in extending God’s love, mercy and forgiveness.

Holy Saturday

One very interesting part of Holy Week is what is called Holy Saturday. This day represents the silence of the tomb and the “rest” of Jesus after finishing his work. Because Jesus has been crucified and buried, this day challenges the followers of Jesus to believe even though they haven’t seen. What would the disciples have been feeling and thinking on that Saturday?

Were they living in expectation of the resurrection in the morning? Not according to the biblical narrative we have from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It seems like the concept of Jesus loving them to the “end” left the disciples believing that his death was the end.

Humanly, feeling that way makes perfect sense, but Jesus had promised and shown in Lazarus earlier in the week that he had power over death. He was the resurrection and the life. This Saturday challenges their ability to believe without seeing.

Prayer Thought—What is one thing Jesus has taught you about his love during this study of holy week that you have found hard to believe without seeing?

The Coronavirus Cure

In the midst of a global effort to stop a virus, Easter reminds us to look to the cure of all viruses, illnesses and negative in our world—Jesus, the Savior—and focus on what he said and what he did.

By Rick Shallenberger, US North Central Regional Director, Equipper Editor

Here in the United States, we are still at the beginning of seeing the potential impact of the coronavirus. Most churches have ceased gathering for public worship for a few weeks; many states have closed all restaurants and bars, a large number of employees are now working from home, and a large percentage of the population is trying their best to stay home. The idea, of course, is to limit contact with one another for a short time as an effort to slow down and/or stop the spread of the virus.

It’s possible we will not be able to meet for Holy Week and Easter. Some find this unacceptable and unfortunately, some well-meaning Christians are defying the government guidelines and are still meeting for church and small groups. Their justification is a misinterpretation of an understanding of the separation of church and state, and a misinterpretation of Scripture and prophecy. I’ve heard people say, “The government cannot and should not tell churches whether or not to meet.” I’ve also heard people say, “Jesus will protect us from getting the virus as long as we don’t forsake gathering together.”

While there is an element of truth to the first statement, we are missing the point. The governments haven’t asked churches to forsake meeting because they are against the church, but because they are for the people. They are attempting to slow the spread of the virus. I suggest if we follow the guidelines Jesus gave us during his last evening with his disciples prior to his crucifixion, we’d comply by not meeting together.

Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

GCI congregations are filled with high-risk brothers and sisters. Many in our congregations are elderly and many have health issues. Is it more important to insist on meeting together, or to do what Jesus commands us to do, “Love one another”? But Jesus didn’t stop there—he said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

How did Jesus love us? Here are a few ways:

  • He set aside his equality with the Father (Phil. 2:5-8) and became a servant.
  • Jesus stepped out of his comfort zone. I’m speculating of course, but I think you would agree Jesus was much more “comfortable” as a spirit being than he was a human being. And let’s not even get into the 9 months in the womb.
  • Jesus went to the cross for us. The ultimate sacrifice.
  • Jesus went to the grave for us. He was bound in cloth and lay in a tomb until his resurrection.
  • Jesus did not insist on doing things his way. “Not my will, but yours.”
  • Everything Jesus did was for others.

So if we love as Jesus loves, we sacrifice for the sake of others; we put others first; we do whatever we can for others. And this is what identifies disciples of Jesus, not that we put church above all us, but that we put the love of Jesus above all else and we are motivated by “our love for one another.”

And then came Easter! Jesus rose from the grave to give us new life. His love had come full circle and by rising, he included us in all he had accomplished. He vanquished death. Illnesses and viruses. As frightening as the coronavirus may be, it cannot remove us from the hope and promises that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection bring us. He is the cure for coronavirus; he is the cure for every sickness and evil in society. Easter reminds us that new life has come in Jesus with a greater fullness to be fulfilled.

We may still be in the midst of the fallout of the coronavirus, but we know it will not break the hope and promises we have in Jesus. Meeting together person to person as a church is a blessing, but it should never get in the way of being disciples that set the example of loving others as Jesus loves us.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed.

The Lord Will Provide

A Palm Sunday Message

By Jeff Broadnax, US Associate Regional Director, East

“When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen…” – Luke 19:37

All four Gospel writers tell the story of what modern Christianity calls “the Triumphal Entry.” Jesus had been on his way to Jerusalem, and when he got near the Mount of Olives in Bethphage, he sent the disciples ahead to the village because the Father had provided a donkey for him there.

As they brought the donkey to Jesus, crowds of men, women and children laid their coats and cut branches on the ground as they openly shouted:

“Hosanna!” (Save us)
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

The Pharisees challenged Jesus to demand that they stop crying out these Messianic statements. Jesus instead told them that if those disciples chose to keep quiet, that the Lord would provide stones to proclaim his Messiahship.

It was at that moment that Jesus took in the view from the Mount of Olives and wept over Jerusalem and her people’s inability to see and accept what God had been giving them in Jesus. Just over a year ago, I stood in that place. I saw the view that Jesus saw and I learned a little more about what might have caused Jesus to weep.

From the Mount of Olives, one can see the Kidron Valley, where the Garden of Gethsemane is located. You can also see Bethlehem, Pilates Court and the approximate location of the upper room where he had the last supper. Most importantly, you can see the temple mount.

In Jesus day, Solomon’s temple would have stood where currently the Dome of the Rock stands. That temple, where Jesus worshipped, taught, debated and soon would turn over the money changers, sat atop Mount Moriah.

As Jesus takes all this in, he knows his triumphal entry to shouts of “Hosanna” will end with shouts of “let his blood be on our heads” and “crucify him.” He sees the cup he must drink on behalf of all mankind but in Mt. Moriah he also sees a covenant promise and prophecy that God made to Abraham on the day he raised the knife to offer his son as a sacrifice (Gen. 22).

On that day, God told Abraham, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son… and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Gen. 22:16-18).

Jesus knew the story of Abraham and Isaac and God’s provision of a sacrificial ram in the thicket was familiar to all. He knew that the attention was regularly focused on the truth that the temple sat on a holy place where Abraham proclaimed YHWH Jireh (the Lord provides).

They knew the story, but they were unable to accept the true Provision from God—his own Son would be willingly and obediently sacrificed to fulfill the prophecy and bless all of humanity.

I can’t help but wonder if this truth is in part what led Jesus to weep as he overlooked Jerusalem and Mount Moriah. He heard them cry out for salvation. He watched crowds honor him as a king in the line of David. He would stand before the rulers as the sinless Son of the Father (bar abba) as crowds cried out for the release of the guilty and sin-stained Barabbas. He would give his life for them and for us. All of us are guilty, in need of forgiveness and reconciliation to the Father, which only he could provide.

So Jesus wept and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes…because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” They did not recognize that on the same spot where God spared Abraham’s son of promise, he would offer his own Son of promise and provide for all of humanity life.

As we celebrate the triumphal entry this Palm Sunday, let’s remember the victory he offered all humanity. He wasn’t just the ram in the thicket for Abraham—he is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Praise him!

 

Church Hack: Greeter Ministry

Two of GCI’s core values are to be an inclusive and loving fellowship. One way to live out these values is to create a greeting team to welcome and orient guests into our worship services. Visiting a church for the first time can be an intimidating and awkward experience. A well-equipped greeting team can help a guest feel safe and welcome. #GCIchurchhacks

Click the graphic below to access and download this month’s church hack.

Church Hacks 001 | What is Integration Ministry?

We are excited to introduce a new Church Hack series! In these short videos, we will outline ministry concepts, as well as provide tips and tools for implementation in your congregation. The videos in the next few Equipper issues will focus on the Hope Venue’s Integration Ministry.

Healthy church always seeks to create a healthy environment where both attendees and guests feel welcomed. The integration ministry creates an intentional strategy for moving visitors from guest to productive member. Watch the video to learn the key components of your Integration Ministry.

Online Church Resources

We are certainly in interesting times and people have strong opinions about the Coronavirus and how to respond. As the body of Christ, we don’t want to make decisions based on strong opinions, but on how best to serve those our Father has given us to serve. Our biggest concern is sharing Jesus’ life and his love with others. Because of our love for others, we in GCI are in agreement to follow the guidelines given by our government leaders in an effort to contain the virus and protect our members.

We encourage you to host Worship services via platforms such as Zoom, Facebook Live, etc. The GCI Media team has put together a guide of best practices and potential platforms for our pastors, facilitators and ministry leaders.

If you are unable to open the link above, you can also use this link https://resources.gci.org/digital-services-guide.

Rather than giving a sermon, some pastors are emailing the Equipper RCL sermon to their members and then having an interactive discussion via Zoom or phone. Because GCI congregations will be having Easter Worship services following the same electronic formats, the Media team has put together some Easter Service Resources for your use.

We all understand how important it is to stay in touch with one another and our neighbors during this time of unprecedented isolation. In normal times of crisis people flock to church. With that not an option, it still provides us with a great opportunity to look for needs within our local neighborhoods and to “be the Church” to our neighbors and our members. Many people will be suffering from job losses or at least lost income. People may not be able to get out to get food and necessary supplies due to health, age and/or fear. People may be living alone and feeling isolated and a phone call from one of our Pastors or members may be exactly what they need. This is not an easy time, but I am convinced God’s love can and will guide us through this pandemic.

Let’s continue to share his love and life with others,

GCI Media

 

Communion at Home

By Rick Shallenberger

Participating in communion is something that can be done in church and in the home, with family, friends or alone. There is no specific pattern for taking communion, nor is there a specific mood or tone to enter into. Sometimes you are somber, reflecting on the suffering and rejection Jesus experienced throughout his life. At other times you are filled with joy and celebration as you reflect on Jesus continually inviting you to share in his joy and his communion with the Father and Spirit. Communion is about Jesus—his life, death, resurrection, ascension and invitation for you to join him in the communion he shares.

Here is one suggested pattern:

  • Prior to beginning, set aside a small amount of bread (cracker, biscuit or cookie)—either leavened or unleavened—and a small glass of wine or grape juice for each person who will participate. (While bread and wine were mentioned in the gospels, we understand that sometimes those items are simply not available, especially during this time of “Shelter in place” rules many around the world are facing due to Covid-19. In this case, you may use other food and drink. Jesus used what was readily available in his culture.)
  • Start with a worship song—one that focuses on how good God is, such as “Good Good Father,” or “I Love You Lord.” Get your thoughts focused on who Jesus is—your Lord and Savior, but also your brother and the one who calls you friend.
  • Spend a minute or two in prayer—asking Jesus to help you see his love, to see that he and the Father are one, to understand how Father, Son and Holy Spirit are inviting you to participate in their love for each other and for you. Remembering Jesus is remembering his faithful love for you and the glorious victory over sin and death that is ours because of his sacrificial love. sacrifice of the Son of God.
  • You may wish to read the gospel account of the Lord’s Supper or read Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 11:23-30 and John 6:32-58. The eating and drinking of the symbols of Jesus’ body and blood are directly associated with eternal life.
  • Pick up the bread and ask God to bless it as a symbol of Christ’s body, given for us. The bread represents the body of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life. Christ lives in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, making us part of the unified body of Christ—his church, the family of God made up of all believers everywhere through all time. Eating the bread indicates our commitment to Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:26-30; 1 Peter 2:20-24). Give thanks and then eat the bread.
  • Pick up the cup and ask God to bless it as a symbol of Christ’s blood given for us. The cup is a representation of the sacrifice Jesus made for the remission of our sins. It is the supreme example of love – that one will give up his life for others. Give thanks for forgiveness and our reconciliation to the Father and drink from the cup.
  • You may want to read portions of John 13:18-John 17, focusing on the new commandment Jesus gave us to love as he loves.
  • End with another song of praise—giving God glory for who he is in your life.

Again, this is just one way of participating in communion. You can make communion as long or as short as you wish. There are numerous other ways. Feel free to share with each other wonderful and joyful ways of participating in the communion.

Sermon for May 3, 2020

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 2023 | The Voice in the Dark Greg Williams In the military they have a saying: the mark of a true chaplain is that your soldiers know your voice in the dark. You should have spent so much time with them, and they trust you so deeply, that even in the darkness and smoke of battle they know your voice. Jesus talks about this recognition in John 10:3-4 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. John 10:3-4 (ESV) We, as Jesus’ sheep, know his voice deep down. In our spirits, we can recognize his voice calling to us through the circumstances of our lives and through his word. Studies show that even in the womb a mother’s voice soothes a baby. The heartbeat relaxes and the baby responds. Sound is deeply wired into our consciousness. So, it’s no surprise that Jesus would portray his draw on our lives as the sound of his voice. The actual image used here is probably of a communal pen where the sheep were kept. The Shepherd came to the gate and called them, and they’d be drawn by his voice. These aren’t smart animals. Sheep wander off, they eat manure, they get snatched by predators. Their only hope is a protective Shepherd. Jesus describes a shepherd as one who calls and leads, not the driving, abusive person shepherds sometimes were. He calls gently, and he leads with mercy. May we be so attuned to him that we know his voice in the dark. In the difficulties of our lives, in the loud, distracted age in which we live, may we hear his voice above it all—encouraging, leading and guiding. I’m Greg Williams, speaking of life.  

Psalm 23:1-6 • Acts 2:42-47 • 1 Peter 2:19-25 • John 10:1-10

The theme this week is following the Shepherd of life. Following Jesus is the way to the best life. In Acts 2, the early church experiences the miracle of fellowship as they follow the Shepherd and he unifies them. Psalm 23 describes the peace of soul that comes from trusting the Shepherd. In 1 Peter 2, the apostle encourages the young church that they are under the care of “shepherd and guardian of your souls” (v. 25). Our sermon, The Harmony of the Good Shepherd’s Voice, is based on John 10. Here Jesus describes the good Shepherd who brings us into “life abundant.”

The Harmony of the Good Shepherd’s Voice

John 10:1-10 ESV

Have the text read prior to the sermon.

If you’re of a certain age, before elementary school kids had cellphones, you likely remember your parents calling you in for supper. The world was a bit quieter and a bit safer, and kids played outside regardless of the weather. But you knew if you heard your dad’s whistle or your mom yell “Supper!”, play time was done for the day. Lots of whistles and yells could be heard in the neighborhood, but you knew which one was for you. You could even tell if you could stroll home or if you better hightail it—depending on the tone.

In the villages where Jesus did his ministry, sheep knew their shepherd’s voice so well, they came when called. At certain times of day, you could hear the calls going back and forth like suburban moms calling kids in for dinner, and the lambs would come running. There wasn’t anything magical about it—it was a highly practical, necessary part of life.

Jesus uses this everyday occurrence to make the point that we will know his voice. We will know what he sounds like and be drawn to him. That’s the emotional center of these words: Jesus is the good shepherd; we will hear him and follow.

Let’s unpack these verses a little to see what it means to be led by the good shepherd.

The first thing any commentator tells you to do with this story is look at the context immediately preceeding it. Keep in mind the chapter breaks in our modern Bibles weren’t in the original text. The book of John is one long story, Matthew is one long story—they were all one piece before chapter and verse breaks were introduced later in history. So, this section from John was attached to the verses just before, which tell about the healing of the man born blind (if you follow the lectionary, this was the reading from the Fourth Sunday in Easter Preparation season).

Jesus heals this man on the Sabbath, much to the chagrin of the Israelite authorities. The man is then thrown out of the synagogue, which is basically like being thrown out of the center of the community. Jesus finds him and identifies himself to the man. This speech then happens just after this conversation, even though we have them separated by a chapter. The recently blind man stands in the crowd as Jesus speaks.

So, for context, we’ll read back to verse 9:35 and continue into chapter 10 a little:

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. (John 9:35-41 ESV)

(CHAPTER 10) “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (John 9:35-10:3 ESV)

See how that helps make sense of the passage? Jesus addresses the Pharisees who were standing around, upset with him for breaking their rules and getting people to question them. He heals the blind man literally, and then discusses the metaphorical blindness of the hypocrites running their society. He was helping someone blind from birth—a man basically helpless in that society—and they were more worried about keeping particular laws of a particular day.

We see Jesus doing this all the way through his ministry—establishing that the Jewish leaders had lost the heart, the point of what these laws were about. He also pointed out that these laws and rituals all point to something—better said someone—himself.

The word picture he uses here is probably a communal sheep pen, where the animals were kept for the night or some part of the day. When the shepherd reported for work, he opened the door and called them out and they came to him.

A thief and robber of sheep in that society was especially disliked, because they were cutting into the center of commerce and survival. Sheep meant milk, meat and wool, and were all that stood between sustenance and starvation. This kind of theft wasn’t just taking sentimental property or someone’s second car—this cut right into the heart of survival.

Jesus uses shepherd imagery that would have been known by his audience. The Pharisees’ anger was understandable, because Jesus was probably referring specifically to a section of Ezekiel 34.

Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. (Ezekiel 34:2-6 ESV)

This is a passage the Pharisees would have been familiar with, and here’s Jesus comparing them with this diatribe against the leaders of Israel centuries before. This is not a gentle comparison; he is saying they are the thieves who mislead Israel and deceive the people, leading in a wrong direction in order to keep their position of power and place in society.

What strikes me as I read this is not as much the evil of the corrupt leaders, which is apparent, nor even the lostness of the sheep, but the goodness of the Good Shepherd. As he calls himself in the verse right after our passage: “I am the good shepherd” (verse 11).

In Ezekiel, the leaders are condemned for neglecting the weak, leaving the sick, not helping the injured. They’ve allowed the sheep to scatter and left them vulnerable to wild beasts. But the Good Shepherd reaches out to the broken and the hurting and the imperfect. This is a powerful contrast. Corrupt leaders who exploit the weak and discard them, and the good shepherd who leaves the 99 to save the one, and who sometimes leaves the 1 (percent) to reach the 99.

Sheep aren’t exactly the fluffy characters from the Sunday school pictures. They have a peculiar simplemindedness, even when compared with other farm animals. If you put sheep in one area, they will graze there until the grass is gone. This tendency to overgraze requires a shepherd to move them from pasture to pasture—something they won’t do on their own. They aren’t known to be the intellectuals of the farmyard.

And that makes the good shepherd all the more “good.” A shepherd doesn’t necessarily have to be good to his sheep. He’s unobserved for much of the time, and nobody knows how he treats them; owners just want their sheep fed and watered. The goodness of the good shepherd tells us about him, about who he is.

To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. (John 10:2-3 ESV)

The good shepherd doesn’t speak with an abusive voice; he doesn’t jump over the fence and scare the sheep—he approaches with gentle confidence, knowing that his sheep know his voice. Jesus comes with the drawing voice, the wooing voice, not the loud, driving spirit we hear from other voices.

Where is that drawing voice in your life today? When you’re faced with a decision or come to a crossroads, are you listening to the gentle, drawing voice that’s calling you to wholeness and life, or the aggressive voice calling you to self-glory, power, greed? Very few of our decisions are entirely that clear-cut, but listen close. What’s calling you to be more like Jesus?

Saint Augustine, one of the early church fathers, described the prayerful life as “the harmonious sounding together of all the parts.” The healing, the together-ing of all the fragments of ourselves, is what the good shepherd calls us to. We are so fragmented, especially in the loud, distracted world in which we live. Our capabilities never match our egos, our greed never matches our income, our gluttony never matches our health.

Harmony. That is the sound of the good shepherd’s voice. It’s a voice that draws you toward peace; a voice that draws you toward coherence in yourself. Contrast this with a voice that screams at you. A good example is the rise of Nazism.

“I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few,” was how Hitler described his rise to power. The Nazi rally, with its screamed slogans, deafening music, and frightening torches, was anything but harmonious. Hitler was able to maneuver through sloganeering and emotional manipulation to get people to believe insanity and follow him to their end. This emotional stream-rolling of the mind and spirit is the exact opposite of the gentle voice of Christ.

The voice of the good shepherd calls out the best in us to keep going, keep loving, keep singing in a world in love with noise. The Good Shepherd knows how all the parts of us “sound together” the best. He made us.

That’s why the final verse of this passage is one of the most important in John.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (Verse 10 ESV)

Does life to the full or life abundantly describe the shepherd you know? So often we associate Jesus with “being good” or “walking the straight and narrow” with some kind of joyless, over-serious life. This is the stereotype many unwittingly send out into the world about Jesus and his way of life.

Do we think of the Christian life as the abundant life? It’s not just the key to an eternal life plan or some way to curry favor with the divine, but to live as life was meant to be lived. It’s to have that “full life” that comes with living the way God intended.

Think of all the tension and strife that would leave the world if we followed God’s plan for sexual expression. Think of all the homeless people off the streets and the joy and freedom we’d have if greed didn’t always take the day in our economy. Think of all the abundance we’d have if we didn’t over-indulge. Think of the harmony of the Shepherd’s voice.

Where is he calling you today? Where is he calling you to experience his harmony in your life and to bring harmony into the world?

C.S. Lewis, who was called out of the fragmented emptiness of academic atheism, leaves us with a great quote today:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We are far too easily pleased in this world. We settle so often when we are offered abundance. But listen to that voice in you that calls you out of the noise, out of self-addiction, out of status-seeking and back-biting. Hear the voice that’s always calling us to the Good Shepherd’s harmony.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Speaking of Life: “The Voice in the Dark”
  • Do you have a voice of someone in your life that you will always recognize? That you would know even if you hadn’t hear it for years?
  • How do you think Jesus calls to you? What was your experience of him drawing you to himself?
Questions for sermon: “The Harmony of the Good Shepherd’s Voice” Read John 10:1-10 to start
  • Jesus used shepherds as an everyday metaphor for himself in this discussion. If he were here in the flesh today, what common profession might he use to describe himself? Would he describe himself as a construction worker, an IT guy, a cop? What do you think he might choose?
  • Jesus describes himself as the “good” shepherd who looks after the sheep, helping those who are broken and struggling. This kind of shepherd looks for sheep that most people would have forgotten. What does that tell us about Jesus?
  • Saint Augustine, one of the early church fathers, described the prayerful life as “the harmonious sounding together of all the parts.” Have you ever experienced this connection with God? What brought you there?
  • Jesus talks about bringing us “life abundantly” in verse 10. Do we frame the Christian life as life abundant? Do we think of it this way?
Quote to ponder: “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts do not find rest until they rest in You.”—Saint Augustine    

Sermon for May 10, 2020

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 2024 | Making Room Jeff Broadnax What do you do in a 3-bedroom home when you grow into a 5-bedroom family? I know a man who faced this very dilemma. His family had outgrown the small house he and his wife lived in. Moving wasn’t an answer and staying together went without question. But they weren’t worried. They had a plan for expansion. The house listed three bedrooms but hidden behind a small “crawlspace” door attached to the back of the house was a surprise. It led into a huge unfinished section of basement that could more than double their sleeping quarters. From the outside, you wouldn’t even know it existed. The man had once been a carpenter, so he knew how to prepare that area into extra living space when needed. And that’s exactly what he did. It took time, and some blood, sweat and tears, but in the end, there was plenty of room for everyone in the family. After the “crawlspace” door was relocated inside the house, it provided a way of access between this new section and the rest of the home. This story reminded me of another carpenter whose Father sent him to make preparations to expand the family. His name is Jesus. Only he wasn’t just adding a few rooms to a house. He was preparing a way for everyone to live with his Father. Have you ever been told that you need to make room for God in your life? That may sound like a daunting task considering how big God is. But Jesus has another word for you. He wants you to know that his Father makes room for you. The Apostle John wrote down Jesus’ words that tell us just that: “There is plenty of room for you in my Father's home. If that weren't so, would I have told you that I'm on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I'm on my way to get your room ready, I'll come back and get you so you can live where I live.” John 14:2-3 (MSG) Jesus’ Father does not intend to live without you. It took Jesus plenty of blood, sweat and tears. But you can rest assured knowing that the Father’s house has a room prepared just for you. I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.

Acts 7:55-60 • Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 • 1 Peter 2:2-10 • John 14:1-14

This week’s theme is victory through suffering. In Acts we find the first Christian martyr, Stephen, entering God’s glory while forgiving those who were stoning him. Psalm 31 is a prayer for refuge from enemies and persecutors, spoken with confidence in the Lord who is the strong rock of salvation. The letter of 1 Peter speaks of Jesus as the stone once rejected but now exalted to encourage those who have been rejected and sent into exile. The sermon from John 14 draws from the words of encouragement Jesus says to his disciples at the table before his crucifixion.

Jesus Bypasses Troubled Hearts

John 14:1-14 NRSV

Have the text read prior to the sermon.

Here we are five Sundays into the Easter season and we find for our text today Jesus addressing his disciples, whose hearts are troubled. Although it’s a season of celebration, we too probably still need encouragement. It doesn’t take long to run into things that leave our hearts troubled. This passage takes place around the table where the “Lord’s Supper” took place.

After a perplexing foot-washing ceremony by Jesus and just before Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus shares some very troubling news. For starters, he announces that one in their group is going to betray him. To make matters worse, they are not sure who it is. For one of the disciples to betray Jesus would also mean betraying the other disciples. Each disciple may be wondering if it is he whom Jesus speaks of. This would certainly be troubling as everyone is eating together. But there’s more. Peter, their fearless leader, has just been told that he will deny Jesus three times. As if this isn’t discouraging enough, Jesus then talks about going away. And they haven’t a clue where to. Everything sounds like times are going to turn nasty and Jesus will not even be around to calm the storm. No doubt, there are some heavy hearts gathered around the table.

Jesus starts by saying:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. (John 14:1 NRSV)

Now, anyone can say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” But when it is God who is speaking, then encouragement can be had. When Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe also in me,” he is letting them know who is speaking to them. If you had just been diagnosed with a suspicious spot on your heart and your mechanic slaps you on the back and says, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be just fine,” it probably wouldn’t go far in making you feel much better. But if your cardiologist sits you down and says, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be just fine,” you would be encouraged. We can take encouragement in this passage not just because the words on the page tell us to, but because we know who has said these words. God himself in Jesus Christ is telling the disciples, and us today, not to let our hearts be troubled.

If we are to be encouraged by such words, we would need to trust the person speaking to us. It’s possible your cardiologist doesn’t like delivering bad news or perhaps he has a malpractice history a mile long. In that case his words are no better than your mechanic’s. But Jesus doesn’t just say, “God says not to worry,” he says, “Believe in God.” Trust God with the unknowns of what’s troubling you. These were good words for the disciples, and they are good words for us. We trust that he knows best and he is working in our troubles for our good, even when it seems he is “away.” We can take heart when he says not to be troubled.

Believing in God’s word to us may be especially hard when we feel God has left us, as Jesus just told his disciples he was about to do. When we think God has passed us by, we may think his words are empty. But Jesus’ departure from them is not disconnected from his words to them. Think of a heart bypass surgery. If a heart is damaged because of a faulty artery, a doctor will “bypass” that artery and provide another way to restore health to the heart. This analogy breaks down in many ways, of course, but when Jesus leaves the disciples is not because he is done with them. Rather, he is bypassing them in order to provide a way to heal their troubled hearts. If that analogy doesn’t help, you can just “bypass” it.

Jesus goes on to use a word picture to help encourage his disciples and build their trust in him.

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going. (John 14:2-4 NRSV)

When we see word pictures in Scripture, we should clue in on the fact that God is trying to tell us something that we might not find easy to grasp. God sees what we cannot. What God is doing through our troubles will add up to something more wonderful than we will ever be able to comprehend this side of glorification. How do you explain something that is beyond one’s comprehension? You use word pictures, metaphors, figures of speech. You give them something they do comprehend in a new way that can hopefully stretch their imaginations into hope.

Jesus paints a picture of his Father’s house that has “many dwelling places.” Many have come up with some interesting understandings from this passage. Some are better than others. But at the heart of this picture would be a message about living in the Father’s presence. How does one describe such a thing except to use concepts like a house that has plenty of room for everyone around the table? Jesus tells them that he goes to “prepare a place for [them]” and from there he will “come again and will take [them] to [himself], so that where I am, there you may be also.” Using the picture of the “Father’s house,” Jesus is letting them know that what appears to be his leaving is actually his work in being with them in a deeper way than they now understand.

In context, we understand that where Jesus is going to prepare for us to enter this place is at the cross. The cross is where all the betrayals, denials, and failures of our lives will be defeated, bringing us into the presence and communion of the Father. So, like a heart bypass surgery, what appears to be passing by their troubled hearts is in fact the very act that will save it.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him. (John 14:5-7 NRSV)

Thomas states what is true for the disciples and all humanity with, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Of ourselves, we do not know where we are going, or how we can get there. If Jesus did not reveal this to us, we would not know that the only way to the Father is through a Son who had such love for us that he went to the cross for us. Without the defeat of sin and death, we would be stuck in our inward focused humanity of selfishness and fear that leads to betrayal and denial. Only Jesus knows the way to the Father, which is accomplished through the crucifixion of our Lord. Only Jesus knows the life of love in outgoing otherness. This is the way of the Father with the Son in the Spirit. On the cross, Jesus defeated sin and death with his very love and life. So, Jesus answers Thomas with, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Phillip follows up:

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? (John 14:8-10 NRSV)

Philip speaks truth in the fact that we will find our satisfaction in seeing the Father, in knowing who he really is for us. But what Philip misses is that Jesus is the Son who reveals the Father. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Ultimately it is the Son who shows us the Father and in him we trust for our satisfaction and life.

It may be good at this point to pull back and digest the implications of what Jesus has just said: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” This means that what we see in Jesus is what we get in the Father. Have you ever felt like the Father and Son were more like a Good Cop/Bad Cop duo? Or maybe Jesus seems to love us, but I’m not sure about the Father. He seems to keep his distance. Jesus is telling us that’s not the case. These words are good ones to remember through every Gospel story of Jesus.

When we see Jesus touching the leper or being an advocate for the woman caught in adultery, we are seeing the heart of God. God the Father is not standing in the shadows shaking his head in disapproval when Jesus heals or forgives or touches the broken-hearted and downcast. That’s the Father’s heart reaching out in Jesus’ words and actions.

You may want to go through the Gospels and read them again with this truth in mind. Read the stories and see how Jesus interacts with each character. Then ask yourself, “Can I see the Father doing that?” If the answer is “no,” Jesus is inviting you through that story to know his Father a little deeper. He is showing you in that story a revelation of the Father that will need to replace the way you think of him now. This will be an exercise of expansive freedom if you have been accustomed to seeing the Father different than the Son.

Jesus continues:

The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:10-13 NRSV)

Jesus goes on to show that this trust in him will result in his disciples doing “greater works” than what he so far has done. Jesus is not telling us that we must out-do him with our works, but rather that he is still the one doing the works and we get to participate. In Jesus’ earthly ministry, his kingdom has been established. His works up to that point were inaugurating his kingdom. Easter tells us that his kingdom is now up and running. Jesus is in charge, so his works will continue in the crescendo of greater works till the kingdom is fully established at his return. So, he is still the one doing the works, but he does them through those who believe he is the Lord, ruling and reigning. In that way we are invited to participate in the “greater works” Jesus will do in his kingdom.

Notice how Jesus concludes this passage:

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:14 NRSV)

Jesus is still the one who “will do.” In prayer, we can participate in his doing by asking “in his name,” which simply means we are asking in accordance to his will and purpose and in keeping with who he is for us. Jesus tells us that “anything” asked of him in this manner he will do. Much like the picture Jesus taught of a son asking for bread, he will not receive a stone. But if we ask for stones, which would not be in keeping with the Father’s good purposes for his children, we are not given guarantee of such provision. The Father only gives the bread of life. Our stones of death have been rolled away.

As the Easter season approaches an end, may we continue to celebrate the risen Lord who has defeated sin and death and claimed victory with his risen life, establishing the kingdom for us here and now as we anticipate its final installment at his return. If we need encouragement when our hearts are troubled, may we remind one another of the words God speaks to us in his Son Jesus Christ.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Springing from the Speaking of Life video, compare and contrast the view of “making room for God in our life” with that of “God making room for us in his life.”
  • What differences in approach do you see? What understanding of the Father is reflected in each view?
From the sermon:
  • What difference does it make by “who” is telling us to “not let our hearts be troubled?” Can you see why Jesus connected “belief” to their hearing his words of encouragement? Discuss.
  • Can you share a time when you felt God had “passed you by” during a difficult time in your life? Does this story of Jesus at the table with his disciples encourage you for these experiences in life? How?
  • From Jesus’ word picture of the “Father’s house with many dwelling places,” what do you think Jesus is trying to help us see about his Father?
  • Discuss the implications of Jesus’ statement, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” How can this enrich our reading of the Gospel stories?
  • How do you understand Jesus saying that he will do anything we ask in his name? What role does participation play in what Jesus is doing?

Sermon for May 17, 2020

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 2025 | Where is Your Areopagus? Greg Williams It’s fascinating to observe how Christians engage with non-Christians in dialogue about the gospel. So often, we fall into one of two ditches when sharing the gospel. On the one side, we can accost people with tracts or abruptly tell them about Jesus even when they are not asking. On the other side, we can believe ourselves to be a “silent witness” and never share the reason for our hope even in our closest relationships. Both sides are mistaken, both ditches are easy to fall into. Notice Paul at work. The place where he spoke to them was the Areopagus, which was the venue for discussing legal and religious matters. This is a prominent stone platform which is still in Athens. In Paul’s day, people discussed philosophy and other world views here. He went to the place and time of day these matters were discussed. He didn’t randomly accost people on the street. “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” Acts 17:22-23 (ESV) This is the beginning of one of Paul’s most famous speeches. He’s addressing the people of Athens who were constantly hearing the new philosophies that came through town.  “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.” He approaches them with respect for their way of life and worth as seekers. He even quotes the Stoic philosopher Aratus in verse 28: “…even some of your own poets have said, ‘for we are indeed his offspring.’” This is a cultural voice they knew, and Paul quotes him respectfully. Then the conversation takes a turn: Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. Acts 17:29 (ESV) When the moment comes to speak the truth, Paul doesn’t hesitate. He speaks the truth with pointed clarity and then let’s them react as they will. Some mock him, some want to discuss it further, and some fully convert. He doesn’t drive the point into the ground, he doesn’t remain silent, he says what he needs to and lets God take over. Where is your Areopagus? Where can you approach those that haven’t heard the gospel and speak the truth boldly, yet with respect and love? Then when you’ve said your piece, do you let God do the work from there? I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life

Acts 17:22-31 • Psalm 66:7-18 • 1 Peter 3:13-22 • John 14:15-21

The theme for this week is proclaiming and living by the power of the Spirit. In Acts 17, Paul speaks boldly and respectfully to the officials at Areopagus in the power of the Spirit. In Psalm 66, the poet speaks of God’s power in answering his prayer and renewing his confidence. In 1 Peter 3, the apostle encourages his community to always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks about the hope that is within us. Our sermon, “Still There in the Morning—the Comforter Who Never Leaves Us,” is based on John 14. Here Jesus tells us that he will not leave us orphaned, but will send another Comforter to us, the Holy Spirit.

Still There in the Morning—the Comforter Who Never Leaves Us

John 14:15-21 ESV

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:15-21 ESV)

The classic film “Scent of a Woman” stars Al Pacino as Col. Frank Slade. Frank is a worn-out cynical alcoholic who’s looking for one last good time in Manhattan before taking his own life. At one point in the movie, Frank tells his companion (played by Chris O’Donnell) his one greatest dream in life. Frank is into hard drinks, fast women and anger, and his dream sounds along those lines. He says:

“You know what my dream is, Charlie?”
     “What is it, Frank?”
“I want to be in with a beautiful woman – ”
     “I know that, Frank!”
“I wanna be with a beautiful woman, with her arms wrapped around me…” [and then his voice fades and his eyes well up] “…and in the morning, she’d still be there.”

This heart-breaking scene touches on the issue our current age faces. Frank, who—to put it gently—pays for the women in his life, just wants a companion. He wants someone to be there after the fanfare and fireworks are over. But he wakes to being alone.

We live in a time that offers us another “solution” to life’s drudgery every month. This month it’s fitness, next month it’s fashion, next it’s a new relationship (and then another shortly after that), next it’s money, next it’s fame. But each one of these distractions is “gone in the morning,” as Frank Slade would say. They all get old, they all lose their luster, and the hunger in us that they were supposed to fill comes back all the more furious.

The short passage we have today is from the beginning of Jesus’ farewell discourse in John. He spends these chapters telling his disciples what life will be like in this new community after he is ascended back to the Father. The important theme of this passage is verse 18: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

People in Jesus’ time, as people in our time, had been given false hope by false prophets many times over. Every one of these prophesied movements or “messiahs” disappeared quickly—they were crushed by the Roman state or they showed themselves to be the charlatans they were. On this last evening, Jesus was assuring his disciples that though he wasn’t going to be around forever as they knew him, he promised to be with them in a different way, and they would figure out this new life together.

Col. Slade in a few words tells the painful reality of a life lived for momentary pleasure and thrills. He lays bare the reality that all those things, that every new distraction in life eventually is gone, leaving us alone and disappointed yet again. Jesus’ message is that he will be with us, not just in our memories or in the memories of the community, but in the person of the Holy Spirit. He tells us that he will not leave, he will not fade, he will not let us down.

I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you.

Let’s talk about what this short passage means for us today, and how it applies to God, which should always be our first question before applying it to ourselves. This passage tells us about the Holy Spirit, who is our:

  • Companion
  • Connection
  • Coach

First, the Spirit is our companion.

We’ve already been talking about this a little bit. This is Jesus’ promise not to leave us orphaned, not to abandon us. The Spirit, throughout Scripture, is God’s personal presence. In the OT, he appeared infrequently, enabling Joseph to interpret dreams or the prophets to speak truth in dark times.

But through the cross and resurrection, which were to come shortly after Jesus spoke these words, Jesus healed our connection with God. Now the Holy Spirit lives in us as a community and as individual believers. The re-creation of the universe starts with us as God’s healed people, spreading his love through the world.

And that means, over against the spirit of our age, that Jesus is here with us guiding, supporting and helping us. In the person of the Holy Spirit, he is reforming us into his image. He is “there in the morning” in the sense that he walks through life with us. Through all the dull gray and empty frustration that life hands us, we are not alone.

And isn’t that our worst fear? That’s one of the most common, almost cliché, images in a horror movie—alone-ness. The bad guys always find you when you’re alone. It’s a universal fear.

Sometimes we experience the Spirit’s company as a calm assurance in our own hearts that we aren’t by ourselves. Sometimes he speaks his love for us through people who appear at the most uncanny times to remind us that we aren’t forgotten. Sometimes he speaks to us right out of the Word, as if Jesus has been reading our mail and knows exactly what we were looking for.

But the message is impressed on us over and over. Jesus is present and active in the world, and so powerful and awesome that he has each of us in mind all the time, and he touches our lives through his Spirit on earth.

So, the Spirit is our companion. “I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you.”

Second, the Spirit is our connection.

The five-dollar word for the study of the Holy Spirit is “pneumatology.” This comes from the root of “pneuma,” which is associated with wind or breath, as in pneumonia or pneumatic drill. This is the admittedly mysterious presence of God who “hovers over the face of the waters” in Genesis 1, and who comes and goes throughout the Old Testament.

Wind. Air. Or the Hebrew word “ruach”—breath. As we’ve just talked about, Jesus re-connected us to the life of God. He went through life as the sinless person and made humanity “right” so that relationships could be restored.

The Spirit doesn’t come into the community once every few centuries with a brief word or spectacle, but lives in us now and is especially strong when we’re together in unity as the body of Christ.

Jesus speaks about this later in the farewell discourse:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. (John 16:7-8 ESV)

The helper here is the Holy Spirit, who convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Holy Spirit speaks to us about the way to life, the standards of living as God’s chosen people in the world.

When this connection starts to work, it can be uncomfortable. Many Christians tell the story of coming into the family of God and not being able to re-connect with the old sins like they used to. Suddenly, the blackout drunk doesn’t make you forget like it used to. The gossip isn’t quite as sweet. The licentious relationship shows itself for the pathetic thing it is.

There’s a bigger soul at work within you. Your connection with heaven is healing and this is the work of the Holy Spirit.

C.S. Lewis, the great British theologian, described the beginning of the Christian life beautifully in his book Mere Christianity:

It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

Listening to that other voice—that larger, stronger, quieter life that is coming through. This is the Holy Spirit, who will bring you to greater depth and strength than you ever thought possible. From the most amazing work being done in deep jungle orphanages to the suburbanite who learns to finally listen to his wife, the Spirit is at work in the world.

So, the Holy Spirit is our connection.

Finally, the Holy Spirit is our coach.

Every culture has sports. Every culture has a coach or some similar figure. Usually a rugged person who might be a little tough on you, but really wants the best for you in the end, who you may not always like, but you know loves you. (Sometimes only after years of reflection!)

“If you love me, you will keep my commands…” Jesus says in verse 15 here and several other places. It can be helpful to dig into the Greek at this point. The word “keep” doesn’t just mean obey, as if the only person who truly loves Jesus is the person who never sins. If that’s the case, then the only person who loves Jesus is Jesus!

“Keep” here in Greek is tereo which means something more like “hold dear” or “regard.” A model prisoner could “keep” the rules of the prison and hate every one of them and the guards who enforce them. But tereo means you love the ways that Christ is showing you by the Holy Spirit and in his Word, and you see in them the secret to life.

Back to Colonel Slade for a moment, you can see how there is more to life than the temporary pleasures and diversions that he lived for. You know there is a better, stronger, freer way of living than living for yourself.

You try, by God’s Spirit and strength you try, to live that life. But the blessing is that it doesn’t depend on you. God can’t love you any more or less than he does right now. So following God’s way isn’t about winning God’s favor, it’s about living the best life. it’s playing the game the coach’s way.

Jesus is telling the disciples about the future. Life is about to change drastically again. It’s a transition of considerable force—the kingdom is coming and it’s going to come through you.

Because I live, you also will live.

Jesus made the way for us, but then didn’t leave us to just figure it out on our own. The big Greek word here is “Paraclete.” One way to translate this word is the “one called alongside.” The Holy Spirit is the advocate and comforter who was called alongside us.

He walks with us, alongside us as companion, connection and coach. Jesus is with us by the Spirit to bring about the new life of the kingdom, and we will never be the same.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Speaking of Life: Where Is Your Areopagus? Watch video to start
  • We talked about how Paul approaches the Greek intelligentsia with respect, even quoting from their writing and thought. Why is this important? How do we convey the gospel— which will disagree with some people’s worldviews—with respect, even love?
  • Where is our Areopagus in our culture and society? Is there a place where we can speak the gospel well and have it heard? Are there places—maybe social media, community gatherings or otherwise—where we can speak into the exchange of ideas?
Questions for the Sermon: Still There in the Morning—the Comforter Who Never Leaves Us Read: John 14:15-21
  • In the sermon, we talked about the Holy Spirit as our companion. Have you ever thought about the Holy Spirit this way? Is that comforting, or is it uncomfortable? How does it change your life to think of him as your companion right there at your elbow?
  • We also talked about the Holy Spirit as our connection. The larger, better life of Christ starts to flow through us as we are in touch with God’s Spirit and not our own frantic, self-centered voice. Have you experienced this connection? How do you tune into it?
  • Finally, we talked about the Holy Spirit as our coach. As Jesus says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (verse 15). This word “keep” has more dimension than “follow perfectly,” which is not Jesus’ expectation. “Keep” means to cherish and see the life in those commands. Our moral, ethical, and emotional lives change when we are in touch with the Spirit. How have you seen this change in your own life and the lives of others?
Quote to ponder: The dove descending breaks the air With flame of incandescent terror Of which the tongues declare The one discharge from sin and error. The only hope, or else despair Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre- To be redeemed from fire by fire. ~~TS Eliot, Little Gidding

Sermon for May 24, 2020

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 2026 | Any Takers Anthony Mullins What if I told you I have a rich uncle who owns a cruise line and he’s inviting people to take a free cruise of a lifetime? That’s right, all expenses paid, day and night paradise at sea. Any takers? Well, I guess you may have a few questions for me first, right? I mean, you probably don’t want to sign up just because it’s free. You probably want to know: What’s the cruise line? When does it leave and, more importantly, where does it go? What will the food be like? What about the cabins? Will I be in a suite with a deck overlooking the ocean or will it be one of those cramped rooms down below next to the boiler? Or how about… What will I be doing? Will there be interesting ports of call, exciting shows, entertainment and fun activities. Or is this a trick to get free labor. Well, you can relax. It’s not a trick or bait-n-switch. It’s the finest cruise line available with exquisite dining, exotic sightseeing and extravagant lodging. You will not be disappointed. In fact, it’s more than words can describe. Let’s just say, it’s to die for. Any takers now? Oh wait, I forgot to mention. There is one more minor detail that may be important. You’ll be traveling… with my uncle. In fact, you’ll be cabin mates. You will eat all your meals together and he will join you for every excursion. Don’t worry, he promises he will never leave you nor forsake you. Now, do I have any takers? Something tells me you have another question? Who is your uncle? Can I trust him? Or should I sleep with one eye open? Does he snore? What’s he like? Nice? Mean? Weird? Is he a bore? I get it. You are going to want to know everything you can about my uncle before you jump on that boat. I would. Well, you probably realize I don’t really have a rich uncle offering free cruise tickets. But I do know someone offering something far better. We are told in the bible that Jesus has the authority to give eternal life. Have you ever noticed the questions that are often asked about eternal life? They are similar to my made-up cruise questions. Sometimes eternal life is talked about like its some kind of eternal heavenly cruise that we take without God. This understanding of eternal life is to miss the boat. Jesus gives us a better question to ask by telling us plainly what eternal life is. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: “Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3 (NRSV) This focuses our questions, not on the what, when, and where of eternal life, but on the who. Who is this true God we will be spending all eternity with? Jesus is the only one who can tell us. After all, he knows his Father perfectly. As we come to know Jesus, we began an eternal journey of knowing the Father. And he has assured us we won’t be disappointed. Any takers? I’m Anthony Mullins, Speaking of Life

Acts 1:6-14 • Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35 • 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 • John 17:1-11

This week’s theme is God fills his people. Acts 1 recounts Jesus’ ascension. Jesus tells his disciples that they “will receive power when the Holy Spirit” is poured out on them where they will be witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” Psalm 68 praises God who “gives power and strength to his people.” The letter of 1 Peter encourages his exiled readers that as they share in Christ’s sufferings, they will in time be exalted by the “mighty hand of God.” The sermon from John 14 listens in on Jesus’ intimate prayer to the Father, in which eternal life is described as sharing in the oneness of God’s glory.

Eternal Life

John 17:1-11 (NRSV)

Read or have someone read John 17:1-11 (NRSV) prior to the sermon.

Today is our last Sunday celebration of the Easter season before Pentecost next Sunday. For our text, we will be looking at John 17, which is often called Jesus’ high priestly prayer. It takes place right after Jesus’ last supper with his disciples and just before he is betrayed and condemned to death on a cross. Jesus had been teaching his disciples, but now, “After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said…” The rest of the text contains an intimate prayer from the Son to the Father. In this prayer we hear Jesus’ words to his Father as he prays for his disciples, as well as for us. You can learn a lot about a person by what they say in their prayers. Jesus once told a parable that included the prayer of a Pharisee and a tax collector to let us see what was going on in their hearts. Now Jesus lets us hear his own prayer to the Father. In doing so, he gives us a picture of the eternal life the Father had sent him to bring us into.

Jesus states plainly what eternal life is:

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3, NRSV)

This description of eternal life given by Jesus may challenge many common notions that some carry about what eternal life means. For some, it’s just another way of saying “heaven.” And “heaven” can mean a lot of different things for different people. For most people, heaven is the place you go after you die to do what you most enjoy. Life will be an endless joy ride full of all your favorite activities. And of course, anything you don’t like would not be allowed in. Heaven almost sounds like what a bored schoolboy daydreaming during a dull class would come up with. It’s mostly an imaginative work of escape. Such use of the word “heaven” has emptied it of any significant meaning. For others, “eternal life” is simply a synonym for living forever, and the discussions tend to revolve on “where” you will spend that eternal life. Again, there is very little meaning to be had.

But when Jesus uses the phrase “eternal life,” he means “life of the age.” This refers to a future age, when a new kind of life will be enjoyed by those who have faith in Christ. In this way, the emphasis rests on quality rather than quantity. As we listen in on Jesus’ prayer to the Father, we observe at least three qualities of what “eternal life” is.

Quality #1 –Knowing and Being Known

First, notice that Jesus’ prayer begins with “Father…” Jesus knows exactly who he is praying to. He is not sending smoke signals in hopes some random spirit in the sky will notice. He is not speaking to some vague cosmic force or energy somewhere out there. He is addressing God with the name of Father, which implies an intimate relationship. Jesus knows intimately who he is speaking to.

Then there’s a lot of talk about mutual glorifying. The Father glorifies the Son and the Son glorifies the Father. Glory is a word that denotes the essence or true nature of God. God is glorious indeed, for there is nothing about him that is tainted, fragmented or distorted. He is real in every sense of the word. But notice that part of this glory is that it is a shared glory. The Father does not keep his glory to himself, nor does the Son bask in his own glory. Their glory is wrapped up in sharing their glory with one another. But it doesn’t stop there. They also move to share their glory with humans. This can be observed in the story of Moses, who saw the glory of God on the mountain and came down radiating. God’s glory rubbed off on him. Part of God’s glory is his desire to be known. In the life of the Trinity, there is mutual knowing of Father, Son and Spirit. This is their glory, the true identity and character of their essence. Father, Son and Spirit do not hide their glory from one another or from us. They live in mutual knowing of one another and it is their glory to bring us into their circle of knowing.

So, Jesus tells us that eternal life is wrapped up in knowing the Father and the Son. Later, Jesus says, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world” (v. 26). In the Old Testament, names signaled the essence of the person. For example, God revealed his name to Moses with, “I am that I am.” So, Jesus is making the Father known to those the Father gave him. There is no eternal life without knowing the one in whose life we have a share in. We are told that “God is love,” and we cannot disconnect this aspect of knowing and being known from the love of God. Knowing and being known is central in a relationship of love.

Does this stretch your understanding of eternal life? Can you imagine living in a relationship where you are fully known, and yet are still loved, and you fully know another? Do you long to be known in a way that there are no secrets, no hiding, just pure open knowing? And, considering the fact that God is infinite, do you think there is any risk of ever getting bored in coming to know the Father, Son and Spirit? Jesus has been knowing the Father for all eternity “before the world existed” and his love for the Father overflows. Imagine what life will be like to be unhindered in knowing the Father and being known and loved for all eternity.

Quality #2 –Giving and Receiving

If you were to go through this passage and circle every form of the word “give,” you would find yourself circling eleven times. Clearly, giving has a lot to do with what’s going on in Jesus’ prayer. And of course, for there to be giving there must also be receiving. We notice the Father is the primary giver in the passage. He gives “authority” to the Son, he gives “eternal life,” he gives “work” and “words” and he gives his “name.” On several occasions, we find that the Father gives “people” to Jesus. “They were yours, and you gave them to me…” Let that sink in for a moment.

Have you ever jokingly said you were God’s gift to the world? Well, don’t sell yourself short. it turns out that you are God’s gift to Jesus. You are extremely important and valuable to the Father and the Son. One thing is for certain! God is a generous giver. This is the quality of life that has been going on for all eternity in the life of Father, Son and Spirit. There is constant giving and receiving from another. So, eternal life then is to know and participate in this life of giving and receiving.

In our culture, the idea of receiving is often avoided. We’d prefer to see ourselves as self-sufficient, not needing to receive anything from anyone else. But this is not what we are made for. Our true being is found in receiving from another while giving ourselves to others as well. Have you ever found it difficult to receive help from someone else? Perhaps you felt it would be a sign of weakness. Or maybe you were afraid that doing so would obligate you to the other person. In our world of sin-tainted relationships, this is often the case. But that is not the kind of giving and receiving we see in the Triune life.

God does not give in order to obligate you in some way. He gives because he is a giver. Also, his giving is always for the good of another. He never gives something that is harmful for another. His giving is intentional and tailor-made for his beloved. We cannot divorce his giving from his knowing. He knows us best, way better than we know ourselves, so he is the one who knows how to best give to us. And what he gives we can trust is for our good. This is why the main gift we see in the Gospel of John is that the Father has given us Jesus Christ, his very Son.

Jesus gives us the eternal life where we have a share in his eternal giving and receiving. This also means eternal life is a life of giving. In many ways we know this at some level. Giving just feels good. We are made for it. And the main gift we have to give is ourselves. Imagine this quality of eternal life—a life where you give yourself with no rejection. God knows and makes you into the perfect gift he made you to be. When you give yourself to God and others made in his image, you will be perfectly received. No rejection, no dismissal or being “put up with.” We are made to be another’s gift of joy.

Quality #3 – Unity of Love

Jesus concludes this section by praying:

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. (John 17:11 NRSV)

In what way must we view the Father and Son being one? Oneness or unity can be taken several ways. Being one or being unified can be understood as sharing a common purpose. People who gather together under a common purpose or task can refer to themselves as standing as “one.” Some Eastern religions and philosophies speak of oneness concerning a person’s soul that merges to be “one” with the universe. This kind of oneness, however, would amount to a loss of the person for the sake of the “oneness.” These concepts of oneness fall short. The oneness Jesus is speaking of is grounded in the oneness that exists between the Father and the Son (and the Spirit, although Jesus does not mention that here explicitly). “…so that they may be one, as we are one.” This is a oneness of love.

The Triune God is a God who lives in relationship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But, it’s not just any relationship—it is one so characterized by love that in 1 John we are informed that “God is love.” This is how the Father and the Son are one. There is no part of their relationship that exists opposed to or lacking from the love they share. Their love for one another is so pure, perfect and undefiled that the best way to talk of it is to say they are one.

Jesus prays to the Father to protect those who come to believe in him in regard to their love for God, for one another and for the world. This is a remarkable truth John has here for us in Jesus’ prayer. Jesus is not just saying we are to be one around a common purpose or idea, although this may be part of any relationship that is unified in love. He is also not saying that our oneness will result in a loss of our unique and personal identities. He is saying that we are brought into a share of the oneness that the Father, Son and Spirit have had for eternity. The love they share, the sheer oneness of their love, is not a love we must emulate or create on our own steam. Rather, we are to participate in the oneness of love shared in the Trinity. We could never love to the degree of oneness that Jesus has with his Father. But in Jesus we are brought into their very love to participate in their oneness. We can see three directions of God’s love in this prayer that believers are invited to participate in. Love for God, love for fellow disciples and love for the world.

Co-lovers of Father, Son and Spirit

Just how does one love God with all their “heart, soul, mind and strength” (Matt. 22:37)? Is it possible to love the Father in the same way the Son loves the Father? Can humans truly be redeemed to the point that their love reaches the same depth of love the Son has for the Father? Can we really love the Father and the Son in the same way the Spirit embodies their love for one another? The overflowing and abundant love that lives out in unity between the Father, Son and Spirit is not held at arm’s length as a mere example for us to follow. It is a oneness that Jesus has prayed for us to be part of. We are included in sharing their love for one another. In this way we are co-lovers with the Father as he loves the Son and co-lovers with the Son as he loves the Father and co-lovers in the Spirit of the oneness of love shared in the Triune God. This is what it means to worship the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. What a marvelous prayer Jesus has let us listen in on! Jesus wants us to know that this is the oneness he and the Father want to share with us in the Spirit.

Co-lovers of one another

But it doesn’t end there. Jesus prays this out of his love for his disciples. We see in Jesus how God loves all his children with a perfect love that loves us to perfection. As co-lovers of God, we are also co-lovers of all the brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not commanded to love one another with no provision of such love. We are invited to participate in the very love God has for all his children. This should set us free in our hearts when we fall short of such love. Do you ever find it difficult to love others in the same way Jesus loved others? How often do you get angry at your own failures in loving others? Especially those we are closest to? What Jesus is showing us in this prayer is we are actually given to share in the Father’s love for the ones we fail to love.

It’s not our own love that we put our confidence in. We are included in God’s love for others. This doesn’t mean we bring our love alongside the Father’s and try to keep pace. No, we are called into sharing his love for them. We love others with the same love the Father is loving them with. We are one with God in his love. it’s staggering, to say the least. It may make your heart sore to know the day is coming when our love for one another will never slip or fall short. Our love will be one with the Father, Son and Spirit, and we never have to hang our heads low for coming up short in loving others in the way we are made to do. Because of this hope, we can get back up when our love fails, we can repent and turn again to receive the love the Father is loving the one you failed with. God’s love never fails. His love will sustain you and lift you into his love for that person. Our relationships with one another in and out of the church often fall short of this, but this is Jesus’ prayer for us. The resurrection tells us the Father intends to answer this prayer completely. In this hope we can love one another today and know that our love will grow to completion in the future.

Co-lovers of the world

This prayer at times may appear that God’s love is selective. Does God really only love the people that he gave to the Son? What about all the other billions in the world who have not believed in the Son? Just because the Father begins with the disciples doesn’t mean his intentions are withheld from the world. In fact, the very reason he has called those to himself is so they can go out and be witnesses of the Father’s love for the world. God chooses to work through the particular to reach the general. Or another way to put it, God starts small. Just as he called Abraham to be a blessing for many, he calls the few to share his blessing and love to all. As believers, you are called as the few to be one with God’s love for the world. Everything the Father has done in Jesus and is doing in the Spirit in his church is for the sake of the world. His love for the world is seen in the giving of his own Son at Bethlehem and Golgotha. From birth to death, the Father’s love has embraced his lost creation in Jesus for the purpose of restoration and redemption. The Father’s love for the world is not a second-rate, inferior love. He loves the world with the same oneness of love that he loves his own Son. As believers in Christ, we are called to participate in the Father’s love for the world.

Again, this is staggering. We are not called to wrestle up some kind of internal love built on positive thinking or sheer will, but rather, we are to be one as God is one. We are called to be co-lovers with God for God’s world. Does sacrificial love come hard for those who reject your faith? Do you find your love for those who resist and even persecute the church running short of staying power? If so, you can stop loving the world with your love and start receiving the love the Father has for his world. Again, he is not asking you to muster up a love equal to his. What he is asking is far more radical than that. He is asking that you love the world with the exact same love he has for the world. As we hear Jesus’ prayer, we find that the Father is looking to answer this prayer with every encounter you have with one of his lost children.

It is marvelous to see Jesus pray for our oneness. To be called into the very oneness of love as co-lovers with God sounds too bold a prayer for our lips. Perhaps this is why Jesus has prayed it for us. He knows the Father perfectly and prays out of his knowledge of the Father’s heart. He knows this is the prayer the Father aims to answer. So, participate boldly!

It may be important to offer a bit of a disclaimer here, since we have been throwing around “love” in such lavish terms. We must remember that when God calls us into his love for others, we must then defer to him as to what that love will entail and how it will look. There are many notions of love in the world, but these all fall woefully short of the love God calls us into. We may find that we will have to repent of our love and let the Father’s love reign in its place. As we keep our eyes on Jesus and dwell in his written word, we can learn and enter more deeply into the oneness of love held out to us in Jesus. We will learn to love what the Father loves, which also means we will hate what the Father hates. We know the Father doesn’t hate his children, but there are things in his children that must be removed and dealt with in order for the Father’s love to be received. Remember, we are to be one with God’s love for the world, not love on our terms alongside God. There are many destructive teachings and philosophies that masquerade as “love” but are in fact resistant to the love demonstrated in Jesus and articulated in Scripture.

Ask God to help you see others as he sees them and to love as he loves. Ask God to help you look past the sin that so easily ensnares, and see the hurt and angst people face. Love them for whom they are created to be.

As we grow to enter into the eternal life held out to us today in Jesus, may we grow in our relationship with God and one another by knowing and being known. May giving and receiving become a joyful participation in the unity of love of Father, Son and Spirit.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • How did the invitation to take a free cruise in the Speaking of Life video make you think about “eternal life”? Did this challenge the way you understood heaven? Where is this analogy helpful? Where does it break down?
  • From the Speaking of Life video, can you see how questions about “who God is” are important in knowing what eternal life is all about?
  • How does knowing that Jesus is praying to the Father in this text change the way you hear the prayer? What significance does it have to overhear the Son pray to the Father?
  • The first quality mentioned in the sermon about “eternal life” was “knowing and being known.” Did this stretch your understanding of eternal life? Discuss the importance to know another and to be known by another. Discuss the value this has in our personal relationships and how this informs our “eternal life” with God.
  • What role does giving and receiving play in a relationship? Discuss the importance of this quality of eternal life.
  • Discuss the significance of being co-lovers of God, others and the world. Does this help you feel less burden in loving God and others? Explain why or why not.
  • How can Scripture help us discern when loving others is participating in God’s love for others and not some distorted form of love? Can you think of some false notions of love going around in our culture today?

Sermon for May 31 – Pentecost

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 2027 | And that End is Love Greg Williams Most of the writing we have from Paul addresses issues coming up in the churches he planted. In the Corinthian letters we have dialogue with a fledgling church in a complex, cosmopolitan city. And many times in his letters, Paul addresses the phenomenon of tongues—called glossolalia in Greek. The important history here is that glossolalia—at least speaking a semi-coherent language in worship—was common in the surrounding cults in the area. Those who had this experience were considered the elite. One of Paul’s major issues was dealing with one-upmanship and ego wars that resulted from this. People used this gift of the Spirit as a way to bump their social status and pull the spotlight over to themselves. Paul writes:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (ESV) Notice that Paul is writing about the many gifts given—everything from administration to healing to tongues. And he gives the same reason—the one purpose— for them all: the common good. All the gifts are given by one Lord for the good of the Body of Christ.
In the very next section of this letter, Paul writes what is commonly referred to as “The Love Chapter.” We’ve all heard these words at weddings: “Love is patient, love is kind…” And while they work for weddings, they weren’t written about romantic love. These verses, like the spiritual gifts, describe the love and connection of the community, which is at the heart of his letters to believers in Corinth. The gifts are to be used in love—and all for the good of the church community. While many like to focus on their individual gifts, God calls us out of ourselves and into relationship. He calls us into a deeper and richer life as we work out the Christian life in community. As humans, we naturally pair off. Any odd number makes for the old cliche of the “third wheel.” We start in-crowding and excluding and cliquing up—the more people, the worse it gets. Isn’t it amazing then that God is three in one? That the center of reality is a trinity? This miraculous relationship is the nucleus of everything and is fundamental to who God is. The church in Corinth, like the church today, was distracted by the gifts of the Spirit which were given as a means to an end. And that end is love. I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life

Acts 2:1-21 • Psalm 104:25-35, 37 • 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 • John 20:19-23

The theme this week is the Spirit at work. Our sermon, Pentecost: Babel Undone, is based on one of the readings of the day. Pentecost is the story of the giving of the Spirit and the birth of the church—when the confusion of the Tower of Babel is healed. In Numbers 11, the Spirit is at work through Moses and other leaders of the community. Psalm 104 describes the awesome work of the Spirit of God running the world. 1 Corinthians 12 tells about the work of the Spirit in the church community—many gifts given by one Spirit. In John 20, we see Jesus imparting the Spirit to his disciples. In John 7, Jesus tells them about the Spirit who will come like fountain of living water.

Pentecost: Babel Undone

Acts 2:1-21 ESV

Read or have someone read Acts 2:1-21 ESV.

The story of Acts 2 occurs during what was called the Feast of Pentecost. Luke says “devout people from every nation under heaven” were in Jerusalem celebrating this festival, which had political, religious, and ethnic symbolism in layers. What you did on Pentecost and what you thought about it defined who you were, said what you believed and what you practiced, connected you with your history and your faith. And the symbolism would grow thicker and deeper in color after the occurrences of this particularly strange morning.

One of the places to look when trying to understand the Bible’s long history with language occurred centuries before this wild, disorienting morning at Pentecost. It was centuries before, in that part of the Bible where they don’t even name any characters; they just tell a story.

In this strange tale, humanity was somehow of one tribe and one language, and was moving east. This is not long after the flood, so perhaps the world was still recovering. Here humanity was moving together, and they decided to build their own city. As it says in Genesis 11 (I’ll just read it to you):

Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:4 ESV)

So the building of the great tower began. Up and up, story after story, humanity’s pride was building its way to the heavens. Here we have one of these early examples of when we try to do our own thing—when we trust in our own edifices and defenses rather than God’s provision. These are people probably just a few generations away from the great flood; they are perhaps promising themselves that they will never be that helpless again, that they will get in this little cocoon and be safe. But God saves them from this:

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” (Genesis 11:5-7 ESV)

And so their language was confused and they stopped building the tower. The tower was the Tower of Babel. It was a monument to the confusion and brokenness that comes from humanity trying to do things in their own power. What was one family was now broken into many tribes; what was one language, now shattered into many tongues.

Now we fast forward who knows how long later, through the wars and conquests and bloodshed that resulted from this division, through millions of people from these thousands of tribes that have killed other people just for their accent, the color of their skin, their heritage. They killed with clubs, then spears, then swords—fast forward through blood, fire, and vapor of smoke. Fast forward through the world of Babel. Fast forward until you get to a small room on a crisp morning where a group of anxious believers in some new faith were praying together.

Pentecost was a common festival for Jews at the time to celebrate. It commemorated the giving of the Law. This is something Jews celebrated as a basic element of who they were. Pentecost was the day—fifty days after Passover—that Moses was given the law by God on Mount Sinai.. The Greek word pentekoste means “fiftieth.” So the various religious locations in Jerusalem would have been crowded by people celebrating that commemorative holiday.

At the same time, this was also an agricultural holiday, coming at the end of the wheat harvest. So there were pilgrims all over the city that day. It was a time of feasting, remembrance, and deeply meaningful celebration of what it meant to be God’s people.

There are echoes here all over the place, great centers of meaning that shed light on what is going on during the day of Pentecost. The Tower of Babel, the giving of the Law on Sinai, the feast of the harvest—of the life’s blood of survival. Many spotlights through the centuries are gathered on this time, so the day is rich with meaning.

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. (Acts 2:2-3 ESV)

This is the wind of God coming through—the wind that hovered over the waters, the Spirit that inspired Joseph to be able to interpret dreams. That which had only come through once in a great while before, that presence of God that came only in moments in the past and only to a few chosen people, is now there among everyone.

The energy of God’s presence here among them, and among us now. Again, another spotlight is cast on this—the Spirit of God filling and making alive. Who can tell me where that comes from? Adam, the first man, being blown into by God, who breathed into him and made him a living being. Here is the re-creation of humanity by the Spirit of God.

In this story, the painful division of the Tower of Babel is undone. [verse 5]

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. (Acts 2:5-6 ESV)

Each one was hearing them speak in his own language. This was probably one of the temple courtyards, which would have been like an airport on a feast day. Different languages, different dialects, a cacophony of different human sounds. And suddenly there is the sound of one message in many languages. They begin to hear the gospel of Christ meeting them right there where they are.

In the original story—the tower of Babel—human pride results in the splintering and shattering of relationships. In this story—the re-creation of God, the re-doing of humanity—there is a unity of message. There is harmony, even in the many languages spoken here. God meets us where we are. God the Spirit descends into these many languages —themselves a result of sin and pride—and meets with the people who are there.

The miracle of Pentecost wasn’t just in the weird phenomenon of people speaking other languages, it was in the fact that the good news wasn’t just the property of one race, or one language, or one way of being human, but now available to everyone! Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions! God meets the people where they are.

Let’s take a minute to talk about the phenomenon itself—speaking in tongues, or the thousand-dollar Greek word: glossolalia. This is the main thing that trips people up at this point in the narrative here—what in the world are they talking about?

A few things about glossolalia. There are different types of tongues—in some instances as in this one, it is other languages being spoken miraculously, and in other instances in Scripture, it is a semi-coherent language that may sound like noise to us.

First thing to know, at least this second phenomena was common in other religions at the time. Christians didn’t invent tongues. Paul had to deal a lot with some of the ego battles and other things that resulted from the use of tongues, because it meant in pagan society that you had a high status and center stage.

Tongues was never meant to feed someone’s ego or make for confusion. It was meant for the community to be lifted up. There are Christians all over the spectrum on this issue, and the worst thing we can do is let it divide us.

I’m not going to tell the Holy Spirit how to do his job. If he wants to make people speak in a language I don’t know, then that is his business. If he wants to work quietly through the gifts of administration and spreadsheets and budgets—that’s his business, too. The message here is that the Spirit of God blows where he pleases. We just need to be the ones willing to catch the breeze.

Let’s look at another of our interpretive spotlights. Centuries before, Moses had gone up to the mountain to receive the Law for the people of God. The Israelites had just been freed of Egypt and were out in the wasteland, and then were told what it meant to follow God, to be his people, in the giving of the law.

So began the Israelite way of knowing God—following laws and rituals that made them God’s holy people, and once a year sending one priest into one small room to be in God’s presence.

But the promise had always been in the wings, as spoken in Jeremiah:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 33:31-34 ESV)

Moses had been given the Law. Moses had gone up to the presence of God and come back down with the word of God. So a succession of high priests went into the holy of holies to represent the people in the presence of God. But now, as predicted by Jeremiah, the law is written on their hearts, on our hearts. Continuing in Acts:

And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. (Acts 2:3 ESV)

Now the Spirit of God is within each believer! Now there is no temple that we go to, but we, as the fellowship of believers, are God’s temple! We don’t have to send just one person on just one day in just one place, but all have that place within each one of us, and our high priest is always with us. From the least to the greatest—old men and young men, men and women, slave and free—all have the Spirit of God within them.

And so the church was born. The confusion and brokenness of the Tower of Babel were made into harmony and one gospel for all people everywhere—God meeting us where we are. The giving of the Law was brought to its fulfillment by not just dwelling in the temple exclusively, but dwelling in us as believers—the holy of holies in our hearts.

A few questions to take home with us today:

  • How do you see church? It’s interesting here that just before the Spirit comes on them, they are all together in unity, and just after the Spirit comes on them, they are all together in unity. The Spirit doesn’t gift them with individual religious experiences they can just groove on by themselves, but with a supernatural harmony expressed in relationships.
  • How do you see the Spirit? Our default is to tell the Holy Spirit how to do his job. What we see here is the explosive proof that the Spirit moves how he wants and when he wants—our job is to pay attention.
  • Have you been drinking? Such a great conversation here! They accuse these people of being drunk, and Peter says, “It’s only 9 am!” [Verse 2:15]. But bear this in mind. Are we so indulging and enjoying the life of the Spirit that people think we’ve been drinking? Most of the time, people think the church is full of sleepy self-righteous folks, and they’ve too often been right. Would people mistake our church services for a party? Would they accuse us of being drunks and partiers like they accused Jesus?

Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Speaking of Life: And that End is Love -watch video to start
  • Do you know what your spiritual gifts are? How have they been used to build up the Body of Christ?
  • Has God ever used a relationship to make you more like Christ? How has working out relationships made you a better, stronger person?
Questions for sermon: Pentecost—Babel Undone
  • Have you ever heard several languages spoken at once? What was the effect?
  • We talked about how the giving of many tongues at Pentecost was the “undoing” of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. How is Pentecost like the healing of the tragic story of Babel?
  • The many languages speak the one message of the gospel, telling us this message belongs to all peoples, all backgrounds. Have you ever seen the church connect people from different parts of society or cultures? How do these connections help heal the world?
  • In verse 13, the people think the disciples are drunk. Do we so enjoy ourselves and have such a unique joy in our community that people mistake us for a party? Should they?
Quote to ponder: “Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world… until the prodigals come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears.” ~~Robert Farrar Capon