Sermon for March 31, 2019

Readings: Joshua 5:9-12 • Psalm 32:1-11 • 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 • Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

This week’s theme is God’s forgiveness leads to new beginnings. God tells Joshua that the disgrace of Egypt is in the past; Israel has a new beginning in Canaan. Psalm 32 tells us how blessed we are for having our sins covered. 2 Corinthians reminds us that we are a new creation because Christ became our sin and reconciled us to the Father. This week’s sermon takes a deeper look at story of the prodigal son, the elder brother and the father. Do we see ourselves in the story? Do we see the Father’s heart?

The Father’s Heart

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Introduction: Talk about a moment in your life that stands out where you felt nothing but the deep emotion of love—such as watching your spouse walk down the aisle, holding your newborn baby, walking your daughter down the aisle at her wedding, welcoming your soldier son home from the war.

There are moments in our lives that stand out in our memory because they are moments filled with deep emotion—moments when the love and affection God has placed in our hearts for our dear ones overflows in abundance. That is just a taste of the love between Father, Son and Spirit—and the love between our Triune God and you.

We were created in the image of God to be his image-bearers—to show his heart of love. However, we more often than not stubbornly resist our calling to bear witness to who God really is.

When humanity turned away from God, we turned away from the source of our life and being. We became a law unto ourselves, taking all God has given us for life and godliness and wasted it in self-indulgent and frivolous living. We as human beings, even in our efforts to be good people, often find ourselves in places we never meant to be.

Today we will look at a story in Luke 15 most of us are familiar with. Most of us see ourselves in the story of the prodigal son and his elder brother. My prayer is that we start to live more like the Father and share his heart.

Let’s begin in Luke 15:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2).

Jesus was in the company of two groups of people. First were the tax collectors and sinners—a group considered the outcasts of society, unworthy of Jesus’ time by the second group of people, the scribes and the Pharisees.

Some of us have been more like the first group throughout our lives—we know we are sinners who need forgiveness. We gather around Jesus to learn how to change and how to live.

Others may be more like the second group, believing they live pretty good lives. “I’ve followed God all my life. I would never do anything unholy or inappropriate. I would never be unfaithful to my spouse. I make sure I put something in the offering every Sunday, and I’m good to my family. I help out in the community, and I faithfully attend Bible study.” They gather around Jesus to find a way to trick him, or to look down on others. “Lord, there are so many people who don’t even do half the things I do for the church and for other people.”

To both groups, Jesus tells the parable.

There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living (Luke 15:11-13).

In essence, the younger son said the equivalent of, “Dad, I wish you were dead. I’m tired of waiting for my inheritance.” The father didn’t seem to take offense (as no doubt the scribes and the Pharisees would have) and yielded to his younger son’s demand.

The son immediately went out and wasted his inheritance on things that were a scandal to the people of that day. A rich man’s son who wasted his father’s inheritance was despised by society, and considered worthy of beating, rejection, or worse—maybe even death.

If we are honest with ourselves, we ought to admit that as humanity we are very much like this prodigal son. Each of us qualifies as a sinner—as the one who in seeking life has squandered our heavenly Father’s inheritance on loose and decadent living. Rather than finding our real life, we have brought upon ourselves death. Starving for the real life, we are often satisfied with pig slop.

I would guess this story hit the hearts of the sinners and tax collectors—they no doubt identified with the younger son in his struggles. Then Jesus gave the story a twist:

After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” So he got up and went to his father (Luke 15:14-19).

The son came to one of his lowest points—and this can happen to us as well. We get to the point we start to question what our existence is all about. This is the best place for any of us to come to—not that we want to end up as a slave slopping pigs, but that we come to our senses. God wants each of us to come to the realization of who we really are. We are not lost, forsaken, starving slaves. We are so much more!

So, this son, realizing he could at least get a job and some food from his father, heads home. Was he done with his wasteful ways? Probably not. We’d like to think so, but Jesus doesn’t say that the son has changed. Jesus merely says that the son has headed home because at least there he’d have a decent meal, even if he’d have to work for it.

What is clear is the prodigal son doesn’t really know or understand his father. Even though he “came to himself,” he still didn’t know who he was—the beloved son of his father. He expected his father’s judgment and condemnation, so he prepared himself to be placed in the role of a hired servant who would need to work to earn whatever he received from his father.

Jesus next begins to describe the father’s heart.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15:20).

This is the truth about how Abba feels about us: the father stands on his front porch, peering down the road, scanning the horizon for any glimpse of his son. In this story, the father isn’t in the field working, nor is he in the barn working the cattle. No, that is what the older son is doing. The father is on his porch waiting in anticipation of his younger son’s return.

When his son appeared in the distance, the father knew that shape, that walk so well, he swept up his robes and began to run in the most undignified way to meet him. He did not expect anything from his son—it was enough that he had come home again.

Jesus is painting a picture for us to see our Father as the Abba who is waiting in anticipation for the day when we will come back to our senses and return to him. He is not holding a long list of our faults and shortcomings, nor does he have an agenda we must follow in order to get right with him. All he asks is that we show up—and he will do all the rest.

The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate (Luke 15:21-24).

Just as the father in Jesus’ story takes his son in his arms, Abba welcomes us into his embrace when we turn to him in repentance and faith. He knows the only reason we are there is because we have come to ourselves, we have come to see the truth about how far we have fallen from who we were created to be. And we have come to this place only because of his Son—the Son of God who went into a far country and brought us home to the Father.

Jesus, the Son of God, sat among the sinners, describing for them this amazing relationship that he, in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, was including them in. The Father, who longed for each sinner’s return, would in Jesus provide for them a place of dignity and honor: a new robe of righteousness in place of the tattered garments of sin and death; instead of the bare feet of a slave, brand new sandals of peace; and above all, the signet ring of our own inclusion in the life and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relationship. As God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ left the glories of heaven, went to the far country of our humanity, shared in our broken humanity, so we could share in all that was his—this was what God intended from the beginning for you and me and everyone else who has ever lived.

I’m sure the tax collectors and sinners saw themselves in this story. But what about the Pharisees? I believe it was for them—and many of us today who believe we don’t have anything to repent of—that Jesus continued:

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” 

“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:28-32).

The older son saw himself as a faithful worker. No doubt he was rehearsing in his mind every fault, and everything this brother had ever done wrong. He probably recalled every injury that had been inflicted on him in the past and was thinking about how unfair and unjust his father was. How often do Christians spend more time judging someone’s past than celebrating their forgiveness? Do I do that? Do you?

The truth is, the older brother was just as far away from home as the younger brother. He too had a mistaken concept of who his father was, and who he was as his father’s son. He also needed to “come to himself,” to “come to his senses.”

Can you see how Jesus was dealing with both extremes of misunderstanding our Father’s motives and heart? Jesus was pointedly showing the scribes and Pharisees their own evil hearts and motives because this was the way in which they were responding to the tax collectors and sinners coming to Jesus. They were just as guilty as those whom they rejected as the lost and the least, the unclean and unforgiven.

Their law-keeping and endless religious traditions did not give them special privileges in their relationship with God. They were not God’s special people because of anything they did—that was not the standard God used. The Jews were God’s people simply because he chose them and had claimed them as his own, giving them the right as firstborn to all that was his. The older brother was beloved by his father, not because of his performance, but simply because of who he was—the son of the father.

It is critical to see that Jesus not only goes into the far country to bring home lost sinners, but he also is the one who stands in our place as our older brother, the Anointed One to whom Abba has given all that is his. Abba has placed all things under Jesus’ feet because he went into the far country and brought us home to the Father. In so many words, Jesus was saying to the scribes and Pharisees, you are the ones to whom all has been given. But can’t you see—these were dead, but now in me they have new life? These were lost and forsaken, but in me, they have been brought home. Jesus knew this was why he had come—to include every human being in the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

No one would be excluded—so the scribes and Pharisees needed to understand 1) no one was left out of God’s grace, and 2) they were just as much in need of grace as the tax collectors and sinners they despised and condemned.

Just as Jesus stands in the place of the prodigal, Jesus also stands in the place of the older son. He hears the Father’s words as Abba says all I have is yours, so let’s welcome home all who were lost but now are found and all who were dead but now who in you are alive.

Jesus leaves this story with the audience hanging—will the older son repent and change? Will he accept his prodigal brother and welcome him back home? Would the scribes and the Pharisees repent of their refusal to forgive and accept the sinners and tax collectors? Would they, as recipients of God’s grace freely offer that grace to others?

And that brings us to ask: Will we, as those for whom Christ lived, died, and rose again, share what we have been given with others? Will we be as gracious to others as God has been to us? These are questions worth wrestling with.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share a moment in your life when you felt a deep emotion of love.
  2. What do you think it means that we are to be image-bearers of God?
  3. As we began the sermon, did you relate more to the tax-collectors and sinners, or to the Pharisees and scribes?
  4. As you read, or heard, the story of the prodigal son, where did you see yourself? Why?
  5. Share what it means to hear the Father is willing to run to you.
  6. What would you say to the older brother if you’d been in the story?
  7. Read 2 Cor. 5:16-21. What does “New creation” mean to you? Explain being reconciled to the Father.
  8. Read Psalm 37 and discuss what verses stand out to you and why.

Sermon for March 24, 2019

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-9 • Psalm 63:1-8 • 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 • Luke 13:1-9

This week’s theme is God our provider. The prophet Isaiah reminds us to thirst and hunger for the things that really matter. God’s ways are higher and better than ours and we can trust his provision. Paul reminds the church in Corinth that our food and drink is Jesus, who is the One God provided for all humanity. Luke reminds us that all need to change the way we look at God and repent. He is the only one who can save. The sermon focuses on our need to thirst after God.

Thirsty?

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-15

Introduction: Talk about a time you were very thirsty and how good the water tasted. Perhaps let others share a story of when they were really thirsty.

Have you ever noticed there are times when the only thing that satisfies your thirst is a glass of water? It’s almost as if your body knows nothing else will work; you want water and you want it as soon as you can get it. Have you ever been this thirsty? Maybe for you, it’s not water, but something else that takes care of your thirst like nothing else.

Thirst is powerful; it can sap our energy, cause headaches, give us muscle spasms or cramps, and can affect our appetite. Chronic thirst can even affect our mental status, making us confused or even causing hallucinations. This topic might even be making you thirsty. Thirst must be quenched for good health.

In a similar way, spiritual thirst must also be quenched. Have you ever felt just as thirsty for God’s goodness and grace? What in your life makes you thirsty for God? And going a bit deeper, how do you participate in the ministry of Christ that generates the thirst for others to want what God has to offer? Let’s address both of these questions.

First, recognize your own thirst.

Before we can be the salt of the earth and bring others to seek relationship with God, we need to know where (and in whom) our thirst can be satisfied. The prophet Isaiah lays out a description of sustenance that is available to us all.

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live (Isaiah 55:1-3).

We thirst for more than water, don’t we? We thirst for success, fame, money, material possessions, attention, and recognition. These are not necessarily opposed to how God might bless us, but when we thirst for these things, they can easily become our priority—our focus, what we strive for. And they satisfy only temporarily. The prophet is telling us to thirst for what is eternal—for what money cannot buy.

The Psalmist put it into perspective for us.

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me (Psalm 63:1-8).

It is God – Father, Son and Spirit – who truly satisfies. We might get physically thirsty from pretzels or potato chips, but we can get spiritually thirsty from mistakes we’ve made, sins we’ve committed, stepping away from God or from living with an incomplete picture of who God is and how much he loves us. We all have issues (interpretations) of the things that make us thirsty. But whatever the case, whatever issue or shortcomings we have, there is a place—a person—to go to. That place, that person, is Jesus.

When we forget this, we try to satisfy our thirst through other means. And while some choices may temporarily give us relief, there is only one lasting source. Jesus can satisfy your spiritual thirsts through forgiveness, redemption and grace.

Go to him. Take a drink. Sip slowly and guzzle deeply. Savor the moment and splash in his mercy and forgiveness.

When you believe you are in a “parched land” where you think there is no water, look to God. These “thirsty times” are designed to help us to seek God—to find his presence and drink in of his goodness and glory.

Personal Anecdote: Tell of a time you went through a time of spiritual thirst. Share how God entered into this time of thirst and filled your cup to overflowing.

Second, tell others where their thirst can be quenched.

This living water is not just for us. We are also called and created to guide and minister to others who are thirsty. Where will we take them? To whom will we point them?

When we’ve tasted and seen that God is good, it gives us strength, courage and spiritual nutrition to then reach out to others. You know and remember the times when you were thirsty. God satisfied. And you know that there are others who are thirsty. Share with them that God is the one who truly satisfies.

When we give ourselves to God, we can truly live. When we lead others to the source of living waters, they too can truly live.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  1. What do you eat that makes you thirsty? And how do you quench that thirst?
  2. When you are spiritually thirsty, how do you quench that thirst?
  3. Do you feel satisfied?
  4. Describe a time you helped someone else receive “water” when they were in a “parched land.” In other words, how do you share the living water of Jesus Christ with others?
  5. Read 1 Cor. 10:1-14 and share your thoughts from this passage. Why was God not pleased?
  6. Read Isaiah 55:1-9 and share some observations – what speaks to you?

Sermon for March 17, 2019

Readings: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 • Psalm 27:1-14 • Philippians 3:17-4:1 • Luke 13:31-35

The theme this week is God’s promises are sure. In Genesis we read about the promise God made to Abram, which we know came to pass. Psalm 27 reminds us we have nothing to fear and can live in confidence as we wait for the Lord. Paul reminded the church at Philippi (and us) that our citizenship is in heaven. This life is temporary. The truth that sustains us is that God is in control and his promises are sure. The sermon this week, from Luke 13, reminds us to not allow the threats and fears of the world to get in the way of what God is calling us to do. We often hear lies telling us Jesus is not in control, but we know the truth.

Jesus Gets the Last Word

Luke 13:31-35 (NRSV)

Introduction: Share a story about yourself or someone you know who was discouraged from doing the right thing. Ask members to share an example of when they were discouraged from doing the right thing.

It’s probably no surprise to you that Jesus did not get a lot of affirmation from the religious leaders of the day. Let me share one example from Luke:

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:31-35 NRSV).

At first glance, you may not give this passage much thought. But let’s notice what is going on here.

The passage begins with the Pharisees wanting Jesus to “Get away from here.” Both Herod and the Pharisees were probably fearful of Jesus being in their territory. Herod had political standing at risk and the Pharisees were losing ground to Jesus. Acting out of their fear of loss, they use cunning and trickery by saying, “Herod wants to kill you.”

Really? Let’s remember this wasn’t same Herod who had the children killed when Jesus was very young; that Herod had died. This is the Herod who said he wanted to meet Jesus after hearing about the miracles he did. Now, it’s possible Herod fluctuated from wanted Jesus to die, and being fascinated by what he was hearing about him. But it’s more likely the Pharisees’ warning was born out of fear and pride, and they are trying to use Herod to scare Jesus away. After all, Herod has displayed a cunning and brutally scheming heart to retain his power and prestige.

Let’s take my opening question a bit deeper. Are there times in our lives where we can relate to Herod and the Pharisees’ desire for control? Are there times we want to do things our way—when we want to be in control? Have you ever been in a situation where you would like to say (or perhaps you have said) “Look away for a moment, Jesus, I can take care of this my way”?

When Jesus enters our territory, he does so as Lord and Savior. He is the ruler and owner of all. He is the Lord of our life; do we trust him with this authority? When we don’t, we may find ourselves responding in fear and pride just like the Pharisees. We may trick ourselves and others that things would be better if Jesus would just move along and keep his nose out of our business.

You see, when we believe we are in control, or when we see ourselves as our own rulers and owners, we conclude there is much to lose if we lose that control. This leads to fear; and out of this fear we can find ourselves moving in devious and deceptive ways to hold on to our perceived control.

Fortunately, Jesus is not swayed by scheming, trickery or deceit.

Going back to Luke 13, Jesus recognizes their scheming and trickery and responds fearlessly:

“Go tell that fox for me,’Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow,  , and on the third day I finish my work'” (Luke 13:32 NRSV).

Jesus, in contrast to Herod and the Pharisees, does not act out of fear or pride, but fearlessly proclaims that he will continue his work – work that will be completed in humiliation on the cross. Jesus acts like one who has nothing to lose, even as he heads to Jerusalem where he will lose his life. Jesus is the only one in this story who lives fearlessly.

Addressing Herod according to his tricky heart rather than his kingly crown is not just name calling—it is letting Herod know he sees him as he truly is. Jesus is the true ruler who knows the hearts of all people. He knows our hearts as well. We only fool ourselves when we live as if we are the ultimate authority of our own “territories.” When Jesus calls us out on our “foxy” ways, he does so to call us into a way of life that produces faith, hope and love.

How does Jesus live so fearlessly? How can he enter territory where he’s not wanted and continue doing the ministry he was called to do? How can he continue journeying to Jerusalem when it looks like a literal dead end? Jesus is getting his marching orders from another source, a trustworthy source that compels him forward with courage. Jesus knows and trusts the Father’s leading and mission for him. Jesus doesn’t have to second guess his every move. Notice his comment: “today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.”

Jesus knows who’s really in charge in each territory he enters. He knows the true owner of all things and is therefore able to walk freely without fear of loss. God provides and guides towards his good purposes. This is also the walk Jesus holds out to us. How might our lives look if we journey with the Father trusting him with every step? What freedom and fearlessness await us as we walk with Jesus? The Father has made provision for us in his Son to journey with him in the Spirit with fearless freedom.

Jesus knows what awaits him. Notice how he alludes to the cross:

It is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! (Luke 13:33b-34a NRSV).

So that others understand Jesus is not condemning Jerusalem, Luke includes Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem.

How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34 NRSV).

This striking image of Jesus as a mother hen who gathers her chicks by spreading her wings reminds us of Jesus spreading his arms out on the cross to“draw all peopleto himself” (John 12:32 NRSV).

Between the fox and the hen, it is Jesus who establishes the pecking order and gets the last word. That last word is spoken on the cross as the “mother hen” lays down her life for her chicks.

This is a beautiful maternal metaphor that reveals something of the Father’s heart. God stands up to any “fox” who wants to threaten and scare us away. We are made for walking with the Lord, and Jesus has secured this purpose with his own blood.

Are you facing threats from social and societal pressures that tell you to “Get away” from Jesus? Many are afraid to share their faith because they are concerned about what others think. Don’t let this persuade you. Instead of fleeing in fear, be confident knowing Christ is with you. And what he is doing in your life, he will continue to do until completion.

When you find yourself wavering, remember who Jesus is.

When you have opportunity, share the good news about Jesus. The gospel isn’t a warning, it’s good news others need to hear.

When you feel you are losing control, let Jesus have the control. Watch how he leads you into right decisions.

After alluding to the destruction of the Temple, Jesus concludes the lament by saying:

You will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35 NRSV).

This reference to Psalm 118 is a statement of seeing Jesus as King and Savior. Even when our world is falling apart around us, we can look to Jesus to be King in every circumstance and as the one who saves us. As we do this, we can “see him” working in our calamities and suffering.

Jesus came to renew and restore. His promises are sure. As you go through life, remind others of the sure promises of Jesus. They need his strength; they need confidence in him. They need to know they don’t have to live in fear and anxiety. Jesus started a good work and he will finish it.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  1. From how many territories (areas) in our lives are we tempted to try and chase Jesus away?
  2. Can you think of examples where we speak as if we are looking out for Jesus’ good, when we are really just trying to remain in control as rulers of our own territories?
  3. How might knowing and trusting the Father as ruler and owner of all set us free from the fear and pride of trying to control our own territories?
  4. How does the maternal metaphor of Jesus relating to us as a mother hen affect you? Does this help build you faith? Does it challenge your concept of who God is?
  5. Read Genesis 15:1-12: What was going on in Abram’s mind? What are some of God’s promises you struggle to hold on to?
  6. Read Psalm 27: What does this Psalm say to you? Share a time you’ve needed to hear the words of this Psalm.
  7. Philippians 3:17-4:1 talks about our citizenship in heaven. What does this mean to you?

Sermon for March 10, 2019

Readings: Deuteronomy 26:1-11 • Psalm 91:1-2, 9-15 • Romans 10:8b-13 • Luke 4:1-13

This week’s theme is Our Home Is With God. In Deuteronomy, the Israelites are told to settle where God planted them, and to always remember who it was who brought them home. In Romans we are reminded that all can find their home in Christ—Jew and Gentile. Luke shares the story of Jesus in the wilderness—he knew this was not his home; his home was with the Father. This week’s sermon goes through Psalm 91 and reminds us to dwell in the shelter of the Lord.

Our True Dwelling Place

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-15

Introduction: Talk about some of the places you’ve lived. Maybe show pictures of homes around the world to give an overview of what dwelling places look like.

What is your dwelling place? It would be normal for us to answer that we live in a mobile home or in an apartment on the 3rd floor of a housing complex. Maybe a condo, townhouse or single-family home in a residential area. Whatever the case, these are our homes. It’s where we live.

Whatever the kind of house you grew up in, or place you called home, aren’t they tied into a location or a physical structure? But a dwelling place is more than a plot of land, four walls, stucco, bricks or siding and lathe and plaster.

The Psalmist said this:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (Psalm 91:1-2).

I’ve never really trusted in my homes. So many things can hurt a home: fire, flood, earthquake, tsunami, wind, termites, rodents, mildew, mold, neglect, war, or other people. Our home may be where we temporarily live, but as the Psalmist reminds us, it is not really where we dwell. It’s not where we put our trust. It’s not where we find true rest.

Rest, refuge and eternal protection are found only in the presence of our Lord. This is where God wants us to dwell, it’s where he invites us to dwell—in his presence. And truly, it’s where we need to dwell. Every other place is temporary, and most often, much less than desired.

Why then do we often find ourselves living as though there is no true refuge and fortress? The truth is, it’s easy to get swept up in those hard times of life when we lose sight of and connection with God’s never-ending presence. All of us experience life struggles and hard seasons.

The Badlands

There is a region of barren plateau in the western U.S., mainly in southwestern South Dakota and northwestern Nebraska, that is noted for its harsh terrain. Mostly barren of vegetation, and with large tracts of heavily eroded, uncultivable land, the place is often difficult to navigate by foot. This extreme environment is called The Badlands.

Have you ever been through a “badland” where life was tough, extreme and hard to manage? Of course you have; you may be going through a badland right now. It is when we are in these badlands that we can start to believe the lie that we are alone, that there is no refuge and no place to land. We aren’t the first to fall for that lie.

The nation of Israel was birthed out of a long “badlands” experience. The children of the promise—of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—found themselves in slavery and servitude in Egypt for hundreds of years. They believed they were alone, that God had forgotten them. They saw Egypt as their temporary home—but it wasn’t their dwelling place. God had other plans. He used Moses to lead them out of the badlands of Egypt and into a land of promise—a peaceful and safe place to dwell. Right before entering this promised land, God reminded them that he had a plan all along. They entered Egypt as a large family; they left as a large nation—a nation upon whom God was pouring out his favor. Notice Moses’ words:

Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.  But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor (Deut. 26:5-6).

This people group went through some very hard times—you can read the first five books of the Bible to read the story of Israel. They did become a great nation. God’s goodness was ever-present, leading and guiding them to a place prepared for them, a land flowing with milk and honey. Okay, not literal rivers of milk and fountains of honey. But a place of God’s abundant provision, sustenance and grace. He was with them all along. Their tough circumstances, troubles, trials and tribulations were not because of God’s absence. He was with them all along. He is with us, all along the journey. Over the bumps, bruises and broken hearts. Through the pain, sorrow, suffering and grieving. It’s not a stretch to say that we all have been through hard times. But it is also not a stretch to say we all also have the promise of love from God—yesterday, today and forever.

The rest of Psalm 91 speaks of the blessings of making our dwelling in Christ. But let’s not take it so literally that we think we will never have suffering or conclude that hardships and suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent (Psalm 91:9-10).

Wait a minute, weren’t we just talking about being in the badlands and suffering? Doesn’t the New Testament tell us we will suffer with Christ? Haven’t good people gone through harm and disaster? Absolutely. Israel went through suffering, the apostles faced harm and suffering, Jesus faced harm and suffering. But none of it overtakes the promise. None of it affects our eternal dwelling place. Through it all, God is with us.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent (Psalm 91:12-13).

Does this sound familiar? This is what Satan quoted to Jesus in the wilderness. Like many, the enemy misinterpreted what the Psalmist was saying.

Let’s read on:

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation” (Psalm 91:14-16).

Christ understands our pain and suffering, he went through it. He had his own badlands experiences. The ultimate, of course, was the crucifixion. Remember what happened right after Jesus was baptized and the dove descended telling him that he was God’s beloved.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness [the badlands, if you will], where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry (Luke 4:1-13).

In that badlands experience he showed us how to go through and navigate the tough times: trust God, remember his word (scripture), speak truth and look to Father, Son and Spirit for strength, courage and peace.

God doesn’t take away all our suffering—he walks through it with us. Sometimes he carries us because we lack the strength to move forward. When our dwelling is in Christ, we know the badland experiences are temporary. And we know they cannot and will not determine our future, for God has already secured our future for us. And in that dwelling, nothing can harm us.

Conclusion:

The Israelites went through a lot of “badland” experiences. But they were given hope for a better way of life and living. God – Father, Son and Spirit – offer the best way of life and living. They called it the Promised Land. There, as long as they dwelled with the Lord, they had multiple blessings. When they turned from that dwelling, they experienced a lack of blessings – we call these curses.

The apostles went through a lot of badland experiences, but they have all received their Promised Land—eternity with Father, Son and Spirit.

We also go through badland experiences and we look forward to our Promised Land. Our Promised Land is not a geographical location, or a physical territory, however—our ultimate dwelling place is a person, and his name is Jesus. Dwell in him. Read his words of truth to you. Take time to pray over those words and ask for insight and clarity. Share with him your desire to dwell in him. Ask him to show you how he is your true dwelling place. Let friends and family know they also have a safe dwelling place—in Jesus.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  1. When you hear the phrase, “dwelling place,” what do you think of? Share the kind of house/home you grew up in.
  2. The Israelites wandered around a lot, and even though they were in Egypt for hundreds of years, that was not their home. They went through hard times. Name a time that has been tough for you (health, finances, family, career, school, etc.)
  3. Though they went through painstaking experiences, the Israelites were promised a land “flowing with milk and honey.” Even in times of trouble, God was with them. Share a time when, even in the midst of a hardship, you knew God was with you.
  4. Jesus was in a time of temptation and trial (a “badland”) (Luke 4:1-13). What can we learn from how he navigated that experience?
  5. When thinking of a “dwelling place” as a spiritual location (as opposed to a physical one), where do you spend your time? What (where) is your dwelling place?
  6. What are some of the next steps you will take to reside in the dwelling place of the Lord on a daily basis?
  7. Read Romans 10:8-13: What does it mean to you that all who call on the name of Jesus will be saved? What does this have to do with our dwelling place?
  8. As you read  Deuteronomy 26:5-6, what stands out to you?

Sermon for March 3, 2019

Readings: Exodus 34:29-35 • Psalm 99:1-9 • 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 • Luke 9:28-43

The theme this week is Christ is our Glory. In Exodus, we read the story about Moses displaying God’s glory in his face and needing to wear a veil. In Psalm 99 we are reminded the Holy Lord was seen in the pillar of cloud, and he is holy. In 2 Corinthians we read that the veil of Moses is symbolically removed when we are transformed into the glory of Christ. This week’s sermon is from Luke 9 and reminds us Jesus is the glory and the story behind our story.

Transfiguration: The Story Behind the Story

Luke 9:28-43 ESV

Suggestion: Have someone read Luke 9:28-36 prior to the sermon.

Introduction: People love stories, especially stories that last. How many of you remember stories your parents told you? What about your grandparents? Do you have a favorite Bible story? What about a favorite Jesus story?

Suggestion: You may want to ask the congregation to share a couple of their favorite Bible stories or Jesus stories. Share yours.

I’m sure you realize the gospel was preached for years by verbally sharing the stories about Jesus. One of the stories rarely considered a favorite Jesus story is the Transfiguration story, which is found in all three synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. What is fascinating though, is today’s story is not just about what happened on the mountain during the Transfiguration, but also what happened afterwards. There is a story behind the story on this Transfiguration Sunday.

Let’s read the story:

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray (Luke 9:28 ESV). 

Luke says, “about 8 days”; Matthew and Mark both say, “And after six days.” All three authors are showing a period of time between when Jesus prophesied his death and this transfiguration event. There is no contradiction because many people count days differently. If I say something will happen after six days, how do you count those days? Is today the first day? Is the day of the event the sixth day? Or the seventh day? None of the authors are making a point about the days—they are just showing there was a time lapse.

A couple things you can note: Jesus took his three closest disciples with him, and he took them to a mountain to pray.

The mountain image is central to the story of Israel. They are going “up the mountain” like Moses used to do with God, like Abraham did with Isaac, like Elijah did when he was on the run.

And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white (Luke 9:29 ESV).

I chuckle a bit when I read Mark’s version. He said, “And his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.”

That’s an important image for the time. Laundry in Jesus’ day was a brutal, primitive process. Clothes were stomped on in a bucket, and then hung up to dry, sometimes brushed with a hedgehog hide to get the nap and the dirt out. Once a wool garment was washed, it was considered less valuable.

In that society clothing was a mark of status. If you were wealthy or part of the upper class, your clothes were cleaner…and newer. It was very rare to see white clothe—there was no such thing as soap, the roads were mud, and many people rarely bathed. To be “radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” was a very rare observation. Today we might not even notice, but Peter, James and John certainly did.

And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:30-31 ESV).

The fact this is Moses and Elijah brings out much speculation. But it is interesting when Moses came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments his face was radiant, shining from the glory of God. You can’t help but speculate that Peter, James and John got to view a bit of God’s glory when they saw this transfiguration.

I love how Luke summarizes here that Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory and spoke over his departure.” The apostles weren’t invited into the conversation, but Jesus allows them to get a taste of what it looked like for him to go home for a moment. They got to see Jesus get energized to prepare for what’s next.

Moses and Elijah represent the law and the prophets, almost like the left brain and the right brain, the logical and the artistic. Here are two major parts of humanity coming together. Here also is the whole story of Israel. Aside from God himself, Moses and Elijah were the most revered characters in Jewish history. And here they are standing with Jesus.

I think that is the great message of the Transfiguration, the awesomeknowledge of who Jesus is. I love the way Luke describes the observers here:

Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him (Luke 9: 32 ESV). 

When they became fully awake… they saw. Jesus, after all the danger of the beginning of his ministry, is showing them that yes, God is behind all of this. The law and the prophets and the many centuries were leading to a destination—and here he is! Behind this story, behind our own small story, is the great story! The story of it all is grace, the grand story of it all is goodness, the grandest story of it all is Jesus!

When they became fully awake… they saw! May we be fully awake today and see! There are those moments, occasionally, when it seems God lets us see through to the great story where we see that the law, the prophets and all the story of humanity is part of his grand narrative.

The story behind the story. It’s like when my kids were born into the world and all the pain and fear and worry evaporated for just a moment. Or when we are here worshipping and there is a connection and an understanding in the body of Christ that we find nowhere else. Or when forgiveness is shown, when someone finds freedom from addiction, when the frenzied soul finds rest and a cup of cold water. These are moments when we see the true narrative, the true story. There’s something behind, beyond, and more important than these little stories we see on the surface. There’s something that somehow ties all these loose ends together, all these pieces that don’t seem to make sense.

This is the ultimate demolition of what we used to believe about faith, about working our way to salvation, about the law over grace. It’s not about what we do and how good we are; this is Jesus’ story. His story involves all people and is beyond all of us. It is Jesus in his glory.

And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said (Luke 9:33 ESV).

Here Peter does his Peter thing. Heaven has opened before them, the veil has been lifted to expose blinding, radiant light and Peter says, “Hey I’ve got an idea!”

Peter has been ridiculed through the centuries in various sermons, but let’s look at this again. Although he seems to have the spiritual gift of bending his foot up and shoving it in his mouth, this happens because he’s the only one with the grit to say something! While everyone is dumbfounded or trying to think of the perfect thing to say, at least he is saying something! This is why he becomes one of the greatest heroes of the church.

Three tents. Peter is referring here to the feast of booths—a Jewish festival at harvest time every year. They would build small booths where they would hang out for the festival and feast. This was a time to thank God for all the proceeding year’s provision and to pray for a good rainy season. But it was also designed to help them remember their wilderness journey from Egypt to the promised land.

Peter is thinking—this has got to be it! This is the Promised Land, let’s hold onto this moment! But God cuts him off.

Peter doesn’t realize that the Transfiguration shows us who Jesus is, and in Jesus we understand the kingdom is already, but not yet. The kingdom is here and yet is to come. We get this blinding, dazzling moment, but that’s not where we live, not where we set up our tents right now.

As [Peter] was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”(Luke 9:34-35 ESV).

Just as they had a moment of clarity, the cloud rolls in. This is the cloud for their protection. This is the cloud of God’s presence that was on the holy of Holies, this is the cloud that led the children of Israel through the desert. This is the cloud that hovered over the waters at the first creation and now hovers here at the time of the new creation.

God says the same thing he said at Jesus’ baptism: this is my Son, my chosen one. Let’s listen to that, as we are looking behind the veil to the bedrock story, the grand narrative, what is God’s final word on you: you are my child, my chosen one. All the things you’ve been called in your life, all the names and epithets you’ve been called don’t compare to this bedrock reality—you are God’s child and chosen one first; that’s where we start.

“Listen to him!” It’s not about Moses or Elijah, God tells us, listen to Jesus.

And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone (Luke 9:36 ESV).

Alone. That will be the theme for most of the gospel story. Jesus alone. This is Jesus getting the last pep talk from his dad, that last little touch of home. Then suddenly, alone. He knows what that’s like.

The nurse can hold your hand while you give birth, but it is finally you and only you who knows the pain of childbirth. One day your spouse will die, your children will be supportive, but much of the time you will be on your own. Alone. Someday all of us will die and there will be a moment where, despite friends and family, it will be just you and your body shutting down.

Jesus not only knows what suffering, weakness, poverty and hunger were like—he experienced solitude as well. His strength is renewed here; he has looked to the story behind the story, but the moment has come for him take his final journey. He knows what that’s like, and he is with us even when no one else is.

And just when you think this story ends, all three authors continue with the same story.

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astonished at the majesty of God (Luke 9:37-42 ESV).

“When they had come down from the mountain.” They have gone to see into the heart and core of reality, into the story beyond the story where the ends come together. And the next thing they encounter is the kind of story that makes the least sense in our world—the suffering of a child. This story of a child having seizures and being harassed by evil seems to make no sense. Do you see the contrast here? They’ve just witnessed the great coherence at the center of everything and here they are in the most incoherent situation on earth.

The Holy Spirit led Luke, and also Matthew and Mark, to put these stories next to each other. This up on the mountain story contrasted with this down-in-the-valley story; the heights of clear beauty and the depths and ruin of the swamp on the same page.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than watching a child suffer. Experienced doctors, people who have watched hundreds of patients die, still throw up their hands and weep at the suffering and death of a child. Here is a person who has no choice, no way of avoiding what’s happening to them, and doesn’t understand it.

From a bird’s eye view, the blinding clarity of the Transfiguration is set next to the blinding darkness of this suffering world.

I believe this story reminds us who it is who sees us. The beloved Son of God, the one who is far greater than Moses and Elijah, sees the conflicting, confusing world we have to live in. He sees that we live within beauty and ugliness at the same time. He wants us to know that he knows. He also wants us to know that the Transfiguration is the peek into the eternal, into what matters the most and the only reality that will be left standing in the end. He wants us to hold onto that, to look for glimpses of it, and to remember the story behind the story.

Let the Transfiguration story remind you of who it is who sees you. Jesus knows you. He rejoices with you, he grieves with you. He is there in your mountains, he is lifting you through your valleys. You live in the not yet, but know he has eternity already secure for you. Remember he is the story behind your story.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • What’s the most blinding light you’ve ever seen? An arc welder? An explosion? The flash on a camera? What was that experience like?
  • The sermon discusses how Jesus went off by himself to recharge (praying, resting, solitude), and perhaps that the Transfiguration was a “recharge” of touching base with the Father before his final journey. Why do you think Jesus went off to recharge like this? Do we have these kinds of practices in the modern Christian world? Why or why not?
  • Simon Peter wants to set up three tents in this story (v. 33), believing that this is where they need to set up their tabernacles, as he would in his Jewish observance. But he is cut off by the voice of God and doesn’t do so. There are times when we want to “set up camp” where we find God’s blessing breaking through, but he always seems to call us “back down the mountain” into struggle and daily life. Why do you think that is? What does God teach us in that kind of journey?
  • There is a stark contrast in this story between the Transfiguration (vv. 28-36) and the suffering of a child (vv. 37-43). Why do you think the Holy Spirit put these stories next to each other? Why this contrast of blinding light and painful darkness?
  • Read Exodus 34:29-35 and discuss what it must have been like seeing Moses’ face display God’s glory. Share when you’ve seen God’s glory.
  • 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 tells us our veil is removed when we see Christ and are transformed into his glory. Share your story of when God removed your veil and helped you see him.

Sermon for February 24, 2019

Readings: Gen. 45:3-11, 15; Ps. 37:1-11, 39-40; 1 Cor. 15:15, 35-38, 42-50; Luke 6:27-38.
The theme this week is Christ Turns Things AroundIn Genesis, Joseph assures his brothers that what they meant for harm, God turned to good. Psalm 37 is a reminder that evil has no future—God will turn things around. 1 Corinthians 15 assures us that Jesus makes the corruptible incorruptible—he changes things, always for the better. The sermon this week from Luke reminds us to respond to life with this Christ-centered, hope-filled outlook.

Off the Mad Carousel?

Luke 6:27-38, ESV

Introduction: Ask the congregation if they remember a time when people put their political positions and other differences aside to focus on just getting the job done. Ask for specific instances or illustrations.

When Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast in 2012, people’s lives were devastated. Homes were destroyed, businesses flooded, electricity down for whole counties for some time, and over 100 deaths reported. In the middle of that aftermath, the photo below surfaced all over the internet. Barack Obama, then U.S. president, was embracing a crying woman. Standing at his shoulder was Chris Christie, then governor of New Jersey.

(source)

Shortly before Hurricane Sandy, Christie had endorsed Mitt Romney who was Obama’s opponent in the 2012 election, now only a week away. Though Obama and Christie had heated differences, they were able to stop everything and rise above the fray. They were able to meet together to address needs and appear at the place where there was great pain. They both lost supporters and got bad press because they were with each other, shoulder-to-shoulder, standing up for hurting people.

I am neither endorsing nor not endorsing anyone’s politics today. What I am endorsing is the humanness of a moment like this—us at our best, reaching out to those who are broken. For just a moment, stepping out of the constant back-and-forth grind of Washington and American media (if you push me, I push you back), there was a moment of peace and connection. They stepped off the swirling merry-go-round of the world to be still for a moment, to listen to a higher call and a higher voice, which was God himself.

The English poet TS Eliot called Jesus the “still point of the turning world.” The still point is where there is peace and clarity; it is not defined by the constant noise of events. The still point is where you see God’s greater plan at work, where we hear his voice and his music behind it all. That still point is on display in pictures like this one, where people walked out of their own politics, vying for attention and money and power, and simply served, simply gave a hug.

I don’t claim to know what Obama or Christie’s religious connections are; that’s not important to this point: Christ can shine through anyone; every person is created in God’s image and that image can gleam in moments such as this. I’m reminded of the Pope forgiving his attempted assassin—a moment when a person stepped off the constant turning of conflict and revenge to connect with another human being, despite their differences.

Jesus talked about these realities in our Gospel reading today. He said that we are to love our enemies—showing that his upside-down kingdom is built on different coordinates. He says to do good to those who hate you—showing that his kingdom will run on different values and go toward a different end.

Turn the other cheek, he says. In other words, don’t live your life by reaction. He calls us out of the endless grinding traffic of human culture to step into the still point, cease from striving, and know that he is God.

I can’t help but wonder if we’ve gotten so used to hearing these beatitudes that we really don’t see them, or hear them as we should.

There’s a famous scene in the movie Life of Brian, which was made by a wacky group of British comics called Monty Python. It’s about the life of Jesus, or rather a guy who was born down the street from Jesus named Brian. There’s a scene in this movie where people are watching Christ give the sermon on the mount, but they are seated a little too far away and can’t agree on what he’s saying. Blessed are the cheesemakers?! What’s so great about the cheesemakers?! Well, I think he’s referring to all manufacturers of dairy products. Blessed are the Greek—what’s so great about the Greek? The Greek is gonna inherit the earth, did he say which one? I know a lot of Greeks!

Kind of a silly example, of course. But it seems like that sometimes with Jesus’ words. It’s like we’re just out of earshot, and we hear what we want to hear. Or, we are so familiar with the passage, we don’t even hear it anymore. It’s so in our face all the time that we get a case of what has sometimes been called the “yeah, yeah, yeahs.”

That’s very much OUT of the spirit of what Jesus is saying here. He is telling us to wake up, to be aware of how we move in the world. The beatitudes are about breaking through our natural reactionary reflexes and working by heaven’s value system. Such as Obama and Christie serving with each other to help those who are hurting.

Remember a couple weeks ago when we talked about Luke 4 and referred to it as Jesus’ inaugural speech—where he laid out what was going to happen throughout his ministry? This sermon is a continuation of that theme—and our participation in his ministry.

Luke’s major theme is the poor—reaching out to the poor, lifting up the poor, giving the poor a voice. But the definition of the word poor is much wider than we are used to. Poor doesn’t just refer to those who are financially challenged, but it refers to someone who is outside on the margins. Those with special needs and disabilities were considered poor. Prostitutes were considered poor. Even tax collectors, who were drowning in money, were considered poor because they were viewed as traitors to their own people and therefore not allowed relationship with the community. So, in this beginning part of Luke, Jesus is hanging out with the poor as broadly defined in the way Luke sees it.

What we’re seeing here is classic Luke. Luke talking about Jesus as a revolutionary in society who wanted to redo things in the way that God sees it. So what he does in this sermon on the plain is to lay out the values of the kingdom that he is meant to bring—values that God wants us to make our own.

Values are what drives a community. The values are the things that bring us to make certain decisions in certain ways. Many churches stake a value on eating together. Most churches have a fellowship hall or a kitchen, and some of the most expensive equipment in the building is there. There is a value that drove money decision making, energy and time. That is how values work. What Jesus lays out in the sermon on the plain are the values of his kingdom, the values of his community. These are values the people of God will put their energy and time and money toward. These are not as much rules to be followed to be good, as a portrait of what it means to be God’s people. These are the values that drive us.

And the Sermon on the Plain is about stepping into the still point—off the mad carousel of you hurt me and so I hurt you. You insulted me and so I insult you. You owe me, so I chase you down. The values of the kingdom bring us away from that into the still point of the turning world.

Let’s look at these values:

Love

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6:27-28, ESV)

He doesn’t say, “Feel great about your enemies.” Like what your enemies are doing to you. Think that your enemies are fantastic. Feel great about your enemies. He doesn’t say any of that. What he commands us to, in this next group of phrases, is ACTION.

Action

  • Do good to those who hate you. Do good. That is a choice and an action.
  • Bless those who curse you. Bless them! That is an action.
  • Pray for those who abuse you. Pray for those who hurt you. Do good, bless, pray.

Nowhere in here does he say feel spectacular about your enemies. Nor does he ever say don’t be angry about what’s happening to you. Don’t be mad when someone hurts you. Jesus never says that. He commands us instead to action.

This is what we see in this picture of Chris Christie and Barack Obama working together. No, they’re not mortal enemies, but they are political enemies. They disagree with each other deeply. But they put it on hold so that they could reach out and help people.

To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. (Luke 6:29-31, ESV) 

Here Jesus gets specific.

  • Turn the other cheek. Roman soldiers could slap Israelites, and slave owners slap their slaves. Slapping was part of the culture—the “necessary violence” of that kind of world at that time.
  • Give your tunic as well as your coat. A soldier could come up to you and demand your coat from you. These were daily occurrences. Jesus says to give your sweater vest as well.
  • Do to others as you wish they would do to you.

Jesus is talking about how we react. He is again drawing out the values of the kingdom. Slapping your slaves was a common practice. It was like whipping a horse. And it was done like this: you would stand in front your slave and with your right hand you would give them the back of your hand to the right side of their face. That was the socially acceptable way to do it. People would see it and they wouldn’t even bat an eye. The slave would just stand there.

And Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. Now, if I turn the other cheek, can you slap me in the acceptable way? No. What comes up here is this awareness of what’s going on. When you show them your other cheek, you are implying it would be a special act of cruelty for them to slap you again. As one of God’s people, you are exposing the injustice in society. You are exposing that this master-slave relationship is not the way the kingdom looks, not the way things were meant to be. You revolutionize against the “acceptable violence” of society by your own sacrifice. That’s what Jesus did.

What about the coat and tunic? A soldier could walk up to you and say, “Give me your coat. I’m cold” or “I like your coat give it to me.” Again “acceptable violence”—this was the kind of extortion the soldiers were involved with regularly. It was considered part of life. The thing that Jesus says is to give them your tunic as well. ALL you were wearing was a coat and a tunic! So if you gave them that, you would be standing naked in the street next to that person. You would expose not only yourself, but also the injustice in that society. Jesus is revolutionizing society with love. Revolutionizing war by waging peace. Revolutionizing greed by generosity. Revolutionizing hate by love.

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.  But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36, ESV)

What is Jesus saying here? He’s calling us off the mad carousel of you hurt me, I hurt you; you owe me, I owe you; you offend me, I devastate you; even you scratch my back, I scratch yours. The central problem in the human world—tit-for-tat, quid-pro-quo. Off the carousel, into the still point. Before you react, before you give into the impulse of what’s in it for me, step away.

The resurrection is our reminder that the mad carousel will not take the day. The resurrection is the promise to us that death itself, the ultimate tit for tat, the ultimate revenge, will not triumph. Jesus threw his own body into the grinding gears of sin to stop the cycle, and the mad carousel is at last destroyed. Let’s live in that reality.

Three thoughts today to put in your pocket.

  • Be the wrench—Be the wrench in the system that stops its grind. Be the fly in the ointment, the one who says that the mad carousel won’t take you with it. You hear a rumor, let it die with you. You are offended by someone, be the shock absorber, the one who stops the chain reaction.
  • What’s your “acceptable violence?”—the things that Jesus spoke against here—slapping slaves, stealing coats, making people carry your equipment, were considered acceptable at the time. A lot of pain went by before these things became unacceptable. What’s our “acceptable violence” today? What are the things we need to raise our awareness to? Excluding someone from a social circle, sharing gossip, not helping when you could help—all these things are considered “acceptable” in our society. Let’s wake up to that. Let’s step off the carousel.
  • Welcoming the poor—Jesus starts his ministry in Luke with his inaugural address welcoming the blind, the imprisoned, the oppressed, and the poor. Remember that the definition of poor for Luke reaches far beyond money. He’s talking about the outsider. We all know people who have more money than any of us, and yet are “poor” in their spirit. They are “poor” in their hearts and sick with loneliness. How can we welcome these? How can we welcome those who don’t look like they are supposed to?

Wake up, church. Wake up to constant cycle of give-and-take around you. Very soon in the story here, Jesus went to give his life to stop that cycle, to stop that mad carousel from going around again, and to become the still point of the turning world. We are called to join him.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • The sermon began by referring to the famous picture of then president Barack Obama (Democrat) and Governor Chris Christie (Republican) helping people side-by-side during Hurricane Sandy. They both lost support and were heavily criticized for appearing there with each other. Can you think of another example where people reached across party, ethnic, or other lines to help those in need?
  • Luke’s major theme is Jesus’ interaction with the “poor,” whom he sees as broadly defined including those who are physically disabled (disabled, chronically ill), marginalized by society (prostitutes), and morally bankrupt (tax-collectors). Jesus called these people “blessed” (Luke 6:20). Why? How can we welcome these people as he did?
  • Jesus talks about how to treat our enemies. Notably, he never says to “feel great” about your enemies or “be glad” about how you are being hurt by them. He calls us to action—do good, bless, pray for (Luke 6:27-28). Why is this distinction between feeling and acting important? How does this change our response to Jesus word to “love your enemies”?
  • Jesus calls this society out on its “acceptable violence”—slapping slaves and soldiers extorting people. What is the “acceptable violence” of our society? What actions that are considered “acceptable” (gossip, greed, grudge-keeping) in society are unacceptable for children of God? How can we swim against this tide?
  • What does it look like in our daily lives to get off the “mad carousel” of eye-for-eye in our society? How do we stop the cycle of sin-for-sin, revenge-for-offense in our own lives and world?
  • In Genesis 45 we see Joseph revealing himself to his brothers and telling them this was all part of God’s plan. Describe a time in your life when you saw later how God had planned things out for you.
  • Psalm 37 reminds us to be patient and to trust God to work things out. Share a time you’ve had to trust God and you’ve seen his hand in your life.

Sermon for February 17, 2019

Readings: Jer. 17:5-10; Ps. 1:1-6; 1 Cor. 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26.
The theme this week is Blessed by Knowing ChristJeremiah 17 declares that our blessings come from knowing and trusting Christ. 1 Corinthians 15 reminds us that, without Christ, we have nothing. In Luke 6, Jesus describes the blessings of knowing him. In the sermon this week from Psalm 1, we look at the identity of the blessed person.

Who’s the Blessed Person?

Psalm 1:1-6

Introduction: Read the first couple verses of Psalm 1 and ask what people notice about this passage? What jumps out to grab their attention? What does it mean to be blessed? What other passages use the phrase, “blessed is…”

Who is this?

In some translations, Psalm 1 begins with “Blessed is the man…” Before reading further we may want to keep a question in mind. Who’s the man? It may be tempting to see “the man” in verse one as a generic person—inclusive of all people. In fact, some translations treat it as such by making it more inclusive with “Blessed is the person who….” Even the conservative English Standard Version gives a footnote here that “The singular word for man (ish) is used here to portray a representative example of a godly person.” We may never fully know who the original author had in mind, but in light of the New Testament we get a pretty good picture of WHO this Psalm is pointing to.

Let’s look at this Psalm with the perspective that the “Blessed Man” is Jesus, in whom all blessings have been poured out on humanity.

So, what does this Psalm tell us about this man?

He is different from the first man

This blessed man does not follow the pattern of the first Adam. He does not “walk in the counsel of the wicked.” He does not “stand in the way of sinners.” He does not “sit in the seat of mockers.”

These three postures serve as a progression of the fall from believing to (mis)behaving and ultimately to an allegiance or belonging to wickedness. We see this progression carried out in the Garden and we see Jesus reversing its curse in his life, death and resurrection.

Adam listened to the counsel of the wicked serpent and believed his lie. Adam behaved out of this belief by taking the forbidden fruit and ultimately hiding from God because his identity is now focused on self rather than belonging to the Father.

The Son of man, Jesus, becomes the second Adam for us as he lives his life not following this progression of the fall. He believes, he behaves according to his belief, and he completely rejects wickedness. Further, he takes the fall of the first Adam to the cross to reverse the curse.

Jesus heard the wicked counsel: recall it was a council who convened to hand Jesus over to the authorities. It was the crowd who stood and called for his crucifixion and it was the mocking (scoffing) soldiers who carried out his death. Jesus did not walk the way of this counsel, but he did submit to its wickedness. The nails through his hands and feet demonstrate his willingness—even desire—to nail the progression of the fall to the cross, thus reversing the curse and becoming the new Tree of Life bringing blessing to all.

This man delights in the law

In verse 2 we see that this second Adam “delights” in the law of the LORD. In the New Testament, we see Jesus summing up the “law of the LORD” as loving God and loving neighbor. So, this man who is blessed is a man who delights in this relationship of love toward God and love toward neighbor.

Humanity was created in the image of God therefore we were created to love. The fall in the Garden is essentially having our love turned in on ourselves. We didn’t cease being lovers but rather the focus of our love got distorted and twisted. We ceased “delighting” in being lovers of God and others and instead became lovers of self. As the apostle Paul put it in 2 Timothy 3:2-4 (ESV), “People will be lovers of self, lovers of money…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”

Jesus, as the second Adam, has undone this distortion of the first Adam by recreating this “day and night” love relationship. He even referred to a “new commandment” to love others as he has loved us—with a love that is focused on the other.

This man is a tree planted

We also see that this blessed man is likened to a “tree planted by streams of water.” The writer here may have had the Garden of Eden in mind with its river and Tree of Life. Jesus is our life. In Jesus, we find that we are not self-planted creatures, but we were created for the Gardener’s delight.

(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

We are not trees in a garden that need to be uprooted and removed. We were planted and therefore wanted. We were planted with care and given whatever we need to flourish. We have a Gardener who nourishes us, waters us, fertilizes and prunes us to bear “fruit in season.”

Whatever this man does prospers

He is the Son of the Father; he is the ransom paid; he is the Savior and Redeemer, he is the way, the truth, the life and the resurrection. He is the reconciler—as we see him hanging on the cross in death, we realize he did that to reconcile all creation back to the Father. He came for us, lived for us, died for us, rose from the grave for us, and then ascended to the Father for us and with us. Indeed, we find the “whatever he does” to have no limits.

The Psalm ends contrasting the “wicked” to this blessed man. This is not the way it is with wickedness but rather all that is against our blessing gets blown away with the wind. Only the good remains. Our judgment in Jesus does not allow for any wickedness to take a stand against us. The Father does not give the floor to the accuser. Our judgment and blessing is sealed in Jesus. Jesus is The Blessed Man.

Do you know him? Are you walking with him? Are you joining him in sharing his love and life with others? Who will you introduce to the blessed man?


Small Group Discussion Questions

  •  Do you feel blessed? Explain. How would you define blessed? What does it mean to be blessed?
  • When we read Psalm 1 by seeing Jesus as the man who is blessed, how does this change the way we understand this Psalm?
  • Jesus reverses the curse by not walking, standing or sitting in wickedness and sin. How can we participate in this reversal in our own lives?
  • Why would having our love turned toward God rather than self, be a life of delight and blessing?
  • What is the good news for us when the Psalm speaks of “the way of the wicked will perish?”
  • Jeremiah 17:5-10 says it is a curse to trust humans, but a blessing to trust in the Lord. Put this in your own words. Is trust and confidence the same thing?
  • Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-20. How would you describe the resurrection in terms of being blessed?
  • In Luke 6:17-26 Jesus talks about being blessed. Pick one of these “Blessings” and explain why it means something to you

Sermon for February 10, 2019

Readings: Isa. 6:1-8; Ps. 138:1-8; 1 Cor. 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11.
The theme this week is Proclaiming the Gospel. Though Isaiah in chapter 6 proclaims “I am unclean,” when God asks, “Whom shall I send?,” the prophet replies, “Here am I. Send me.” Psalm 138 proclaims the good news of God’s unending love and 1 Corinthians 15 proclaims the power of the gospel. The sermon this week from Luke 5 asks if we, despite our failures or successes, are willing to go where God leads.

Peter—the Rock (?)

Luke 5:1-11

Introduction: If you had to choose which of Jesus’ disciples you identify with, who would it be? It’s amazing how many people identify more with Peter than any other disciple.

The apostle Peter—Shimeon Cephas Petroas—gets the most air time of any of the original apostles. Like many celebrities of today, his life was on display. Every time he stumbled in a doorway or spoke before thinking, someone was around to record it!

Ironically, that’s what makes Peter so identifiable, and probably the most popular apostle. We can all see ourselves in him, and we love him as much in his mistakes as we do in his victories.

This is a good place to talk about which disciple you identify with, and why. Here’s a sample anecdote from the author:
Personally, I’ve always envied Peter—and the different folks in my life who would come up “Peter” on a personality test. I hedge my bets far too much, or I don’t take them at all. If I were to be one of the disciples, it might be John—in the shadows, holding back from the fray. One of the things I’m working on, that I’m learning from Peter, is speaking what I feel when I feel it. I’m one of those who’s a little too lost in himself. “I would be the one trying to keep everyone happy, weighing every word for maximum charm and minimum in-trouble-ness, finding it hard to say what I mean. I choose diplomacy over directness any day of the week, and I’d rather hold a grudge than get in a fight.

Most of us are likely thankful Jesus chose Peter and didn’t wait for us. Thankfully for all of us, Peter’s skin seemed to be as thick as his skull, and when his mouth outran his brain it often spoke something everyone else was afraid to say. He is the disciple of the people, a man who sinned and sinned boldly, and yet was a good representation of humanity.

So today let’s look at Peter, or as Jesus called him, “Rocky.” We’ll look at the way his close-to-the-skin temperament was cherished and changed by the Lord. We’ll look at how his great mistakes, and his amazing insights, were fingers on the same hand. Finally, we’ll look at how an uneducated lower-middle class-redneck became the focused, bold preacher who walked through hell and high water to lead the church.

Let’s start with Peter’s calling—or his early life. We know from John 1 that Peter, like his brother Andrew, was from Bethsaida. Bethsaida means in Hebrew “house of fishing,” and it was on the shores of the sea of Galilee. Peter would have grown up fishing, probably learning the trade from his dad. In the village, there were people from all kinds of worldviews and backgrounds. An early chore for young Simon was probably to sort out the non-kosher catfish from the nets to sell to the Gentiles. The clean fish would then be sold to Jews.

Peter likely spoke Greek, and Aramaic, but probably couldn’t read or write much. He would have been in what was called the “am ha’aretz”—the people of the land—a derogatory term used by the educated classes to talk about the blue-collar working men and women.

He lived on the sea. Peter is usually in the water up to his neck or on a boat through much of the Gospels. People who make their living on the water, like farmers who make their living off the land, sometimes have a bit of magic in them. They do a lot of studies of waves and weather patterns and statistics from last year versus this year, etc. Yet when it comes right down to it, there’s still an X-factor. There’s still a gap that has to be bridged by intuition, instinct, and plain old gut feelings. This is the kind of man we see in Peter. He isn’t the educated finery of Paul, nor is he the mysticism of John, he’s a guy who calls ‘em like he sees ‘em and trusts his instincts. Notice what Luke tells us in today’s Gospel reading:

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. (Luke 5:1-3)

Christ Preaching to the Multitudes (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s set the scene. Jesus is being surrounded by a crowd so he notices two empty boats and steps in one of them and asks the owner to put out from shore. If you don’t think this is a big deal, the next time you see a shiny Harley at a store, go sit on it. We can only imagine what Peter was thinking. This guy just got in his boat—his working transportation—and asks Peter to row away from shore so he can teach the crowds.

Personal example: Talk about how you might feel if someone decided to sit in your car, truck, boat, or get into your RV, or plop themselves down in a chair in your backyard.

If that is not enough, after being rowed off shore so he can teach the crowd, Jesus looks at Peter and tells him how to do his job:

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:4-5)

Something in Peter responds to this. Perhaps he was moved by what Jesus had just taught. Perhaps he was thinking, “If this guy’s bold enough to jump in my boat, I might as well give it a shot. Nothing else is working.” He and his partners had been mending their nets, which was a laborious part of every day. They were cleaning their tools when Jesus tells them to get dressed and go back out.

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. (Luke 5:6-7)

The catch is unbelievable – so unbelievable they knew it was supernatural – telling them this Jesus was someone special. Peter’s reaction is so, well, Peter.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:8-11)

What a response: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!,” and then dropping everything to follow him.

Once again, I come back to envying Peter. How many times has Jesus come and sat down right in the middle of the place where I believe I’m “in charge,” where I’m the man, and tried to show me a better way? How many times has he come to you like that?

What about today? How is Jesus interrupting you today? What is the Lord throwing off balance that you need to be paying attention to? Had Peter not been the impulsive, drama-hungry guy we all know and love, he might never have become the great apostle Jesus intended. What might be preventing me or you from being the disciple Jesus wants us to be?

And this is just the very beginning of Peter being Peter.
He also had those wonderful moments where his mouth outran his brain, sometimes with great errors, sometimes with great truth! Let me briefly share two examples – found right next to each other:

In Matt. 16:13-16 we find Jesus and his disciples coming to Caesarea Philippi when he asked them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They provided a few answers, and then he said, “But what about you, who do you say I am?” And Peter was the one who responded. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

Notice Jesus’ response:

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matt.16:17-19)

Caesarea Philippi was a place with a large temple to the Greek god Pan. This was a place full of idols, people dancing, partying and offering sacrifices to their gods. As usual, Jesus knows exactly what he’s doing and was intentional in bringing them here. If he was going to be a political hero, he might have taken them to the senate building; if he was going to be a military hero, maybe to a battlefield. But he takes them to a place that is aching with the human need for the divine. And here Peter blurts out what is probably based on a gut-feeling and hope and impulsiveness and says, “You’re the guy! You’re God’s man!”

It is here that Jesus gives his boisterous, unpredictable friend a nick name that doesn’t fit him. Better to name him “short circuit” or “hothead” or “firebrand” but he says you are “rocky”—strong and stable, and worthy to lead my church. From his own murky brain, Peter blurts out what his heart has to say, right near the place of idols.

In the next example, Peter’s lack of impulse control gets him into a jam.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matt. 16:21-26)

This may not have happened directly after the conversation at Caesarea Philippi, since the Gospels don’t always tell us when some time has elapsed, but the contrast is meant to be made. Peter triumphs for a moment, having more insight than any of the other disciples, and then he quickly fails.

The main problem here is that Peter is trying to apply his old understanding to a new thing. We see this happening all the time. The disciples saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the dreams they grew up with. If he was the Messiah, he would obviously be a political warrior king—he would re-establish the nation of Israel, restore the nation to its old glory. Is it any wonder Peter felt strongly that Jesus could not die—how could anyone kill the Messiah we’ve been waiting for?

Poor Peter, one moment being referred to as the Rock, the next being told he is a stumbling block and acting like the accuser. It’s interesting how quickly this contrast comes up in the narrative. Jesus doesn’t give an easy answer. Sometimes Peter’s impulsiveness is exactly what is needed—he’s the only one with the guts to speak out. And yet other times it’s off the mark—Peter isn’t paying attention here, he’s not seeing that Jesus is doing something else entirely.

One commentator called this the “looking-glass reality” of the kingdom of God. When you’re trying to do something in a mirror, your perception is off—you think you’re moving right when you’re actually moving left. It takes a minute to get reoriented. Peter is using the old paradigm to understand Jesus as Messiah—he’s thinking, Jesus is going to be a warrior and the reason he wants to go to Jerusalem is to take it over—what’s this about dying? What’s this about suffering and defeat?

How often does God upend the old paradigms we try to bring him under? How often does he turn our small view of reality on its head? We think, “This is the way that would be best, Lord, if you’d just sign off on this, things would be great.” And God says, “Get those dumb ideas behind me! Get that narrow view out of my way! My way of doing things is different than yours, my kingdom is different than yours.”

It takes Peter, and all of us, a long time to understand this.

Peter’s hot temper sometimes ran against Jesus’ kingdom. Think of the night Jesus was arrested. That night a whole troop of soldiers is dispatched to take down four scared guys in a garden. What a contrast! Dozens of soldiers, armed to the teeth, carrying torches, sent to arrest a carpenter and three of his buddies. We remember what Peter did, he drew a sword and cut off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (John 18:10). Jesus intervened and healed Malchus.

Then Peter did the same thing all the disciples did—he fled. However, Peter turns and discreetly follows Jesus to the courts. It is there that Peter faces his most embarrassing time in ministry and denies Christ—not once, but three times. This is the Peter we know—this is the Peter we’d rather not identify with, though we know we do.

Though let me bring a different point of view into this story of denial. If you recall, after Peter’s third denial, Luke tells us “The Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61).

Peter was there! He was apparently the only disciple close enough to be seen by Jesus! This “Rocky”, this imperfect, unpredictable man, is known for his denial because he was the only one strong enough to stay near the spotlight. The rest were off in the shadows, far away and out of danger. Peter, though, was there.

Soon after, of course, Jesus asks his three questions to Peter, one for each denial. Peter, son of Jonah, do you love me? He calls him by his full name. Jesus knew the answer already, he wanted Peter to know it.

Many speculate that Peter and Paul were both martyred during the persecution of the early church. Tradition has it that Peter was crucified, but he asked to be on an upside-down cross, declaring he wasn’t worthy to die as his Lord died. But before that, the Romans crucified his wife right in front of him as he yelled to her, “Remember Christ! Remember Christ!”

What can we learn from our brother the rock? What can we take home from his amazing story? What does his story teach us about Jesus and our relationship to him?

  • God has great dreams for you—Jesus saw very quickly what kind of man Peter could be and God used him in powerful ways because Peter desired to follow Jesus—no matter what. Remember that God has great dreams for you, and great plans for you—he didn’t choose you because he had nothing else to do. He saw you struggling, he saw you in your sin, and he sees what you will become in this life and the next. Let him dream and share his dream with you.
  • Second, God accepted Peter just the way he was, and he accepts us just as we are. We don’t have to change to get God’s attention, but once he has our attention he starts to change us—often through the mistakes we make. Peter learned from his mistakes and embarrassing moments, and we can, too. Jesus wants to make you new—to transform you – but he also loves who you are. He made you who you are, and those traits and trademarks are his doing. Peter was still Simon, the fisherman, even when he took leadership of thousands of people.
  • And finally the great lesson of Peter: put yourself out there. You might make great mistakes, but at least you will do something. Peter’s great example to us is that he kept going. Even after all his blunders he was still there until the end. He taught us to get up, dust yourself off and move on. That is a great lesson. And through it all—through all the mistakes and blunders, we know Jesus is faithful to us as we are reminded to always, “Remember Christ! Remember Christ!”

Small Group Discussion Questions

      • Have you ever taken a personality test online (ex. Which member of the A-team are you? Which president are you?) If there were such a test for the apostles, which one do you think you would be and why?
      • Luke 5 talks about Jesus getting into one of the boats of the fishermen (v. 3: He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.) Has God ever “jumped into” a place where you thought you were in charge and thrown you off? Maybe a difficult co-worker at the job? Or a chance to talk about Jesus to a fellow employee (whether by words or actions)?
      • Matthew 16 presents us with the profound contrast in a man like Peter. Jesus calls him “the Rock” and “satan” within the space of a few verses. Do you think that God can love us and work with us and use us for the kingdom even when we have conflict within ourselves? Can we love others even with they have conflict within themselves?
      • Peter is known to be hot-blooded, close-to-the-surface. He has profound insight and makes profound blunders, often at the same time. How can we learn from Peter to put ourselves out there? Can God use even our mistakes for his glory—such as telling his most famous denier that he will use him to found the church?
      • We talked about Peter cutting of Malchus’s ear (John 18) as a contrast to the way Jesus wanted to bring in his kingdom (through sacrifice and obedience). Have you ever seen the contrast between our way, (the human way), and God’s way in your own life? In the history of the church?
      • Read Isaiah 6:1-8. Notice verses 5-6. Do you see any parallels with your life? Have you ever felt you were too unclean for God to use? Now read verse 8; are you willing to respond the same way?
      • Read Psalm 138. Now read it with conviction. Notice the difference
      • Paul summarized the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. Write down your own summary of the gospel. Don’t use Paul’s words—use your own vernacular.

Sermon for February 3, 2019

Readings: Jer. 1:4-10; Ps. 71:1-6; 1 Cor. 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30.
The theme this week is Jesus is Our Hope. Psalm 71 shows that Jesus is both our hope and refuge. 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) reminds us of what is truly important (love) and describes Jesus, who is love. In Luke 4, Jesus announces that he is the One who brings hope. The sermon this week from Jeremiah 1 focuses on the nature of our calling as bearers of hope to a hurting world.

Tend to Your Calling

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Introduction: Talk about your calling to pastoral ministry—what did it look like? Who affirmed it? What did you believe God was saying to you at the time?

Maybe you’ve heard people say they have a calling from God, and you’ve wondered what that means. “I’ve been called to serve,” or “I’ve been called to preach,” or “I’ve been called to be a prayer warrior.” How does God call people? What does he look for when he calls someone for a special purpose? Our first response might be, well, the Bible says, God looks on the heart, not the outward appearance. And that’s true.

Given the talents and abilities some people have, we might be tempted to think it’s obvious why God called them to do a particular job; they seem perfectly fitted for it. But would God call someone without a particular set of skills? Would he call someone who has not yet learned how to follow him? Could God have a purpose for someone who hasn’t done well and who hasn’t shown what sin tendencies he or she has? Would God call us without really knowing what we are going to do with our lives? Let’s get a bit crazy—would God call someone who has not yet been born?

The Bible tells us God sometimes does just that. In fact, when you look through the Bible to see how God calls people, you won’t find a definitive pattern or even a list of prerequisites for those God chooses to call. We do know he doesn’t discriminate as he has called men and women, young and old, Jew and Gentile. In our Old Testament reading today in Jeremiah, we find an example of a calling that took place before birth. First, a bit of background:

Jeremiah was born a Levite—into a Levitical priestly family. His father was a priest, his grandfather was a priest, and so was his great grandfather. Even as a youngster, Jeremiah didn’t have to wonder what his life’s work would be. He knew he would most likely be a priest. That was the calling he fully expected.

But God had other plans for Jeremiah:

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:4-5)

Wow! What would be going through your head if you heard God say this to you—that he “formed you in the womb and set you apart before you were born”? Would that make you feel secure—knowing God had something significant for you to do? Would it give you the courage to do what God asks of you?

Jeremiah by Horace Vernet (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Jeremiah always thought he would be a priest—serving in the temple. But God called him to be a prophet. Being a prophet was a much more difficult task than being a priest. The priests knew what their duties would be. They were all written down and had pretty much been the same for centuries. Not so for prophets.

Prophets could be called upon by God at any time to speak to a group of people or to whole nations; and let’s be honest, some of those messages from God weren’t always well accepted. They could include good news or not-so-good news. It wasn’t a life’s work for the faint of heart. It was often dangerous work. Being a prophet was definitely taking Jeremiah out of his comfort zone.

So, what does Jeremiah have to do with you? I believe if we think about how God works with us, we can see some parallels in Jeremiah’s story and in our story. More on this later. First, let’s notice Jeremiah’s response.

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” (Jer. 1:6)

It’s estimated Jeremiah was probably in his late teens or early 20s. That’s young to take on such a responsibility, and Jeremiah knew that within his culture he would be considered too young for anyone to pay much attention to what he would have to say. His response may have been just a concern for his age, but I would suggest it’s more than that. I suggest Jeremiah might be looking for a way out of this calling.

Have you ever done that? I have.

Personal anecdote: This is a good place to share a short example of God prodding you and you not responding well.

Sometimes I know what God wants me to do—go make peace with someone, go bring a challenge to someone, share some bad news, give some gentle correction, change something in my life—yet I can come up with all kinds of excuses. “Lord, that person isn’t ready for a challenge. If I make peace with that person, I’ll look foolish. I’d rather just love people, rather than challenge them or give them gentle correction. And Lord, I kinda like the way I am—don’t you accept me just the way I am? Is change really necessary?”

God stopped Jeremiah before he got too far into his excuse, and I’d suggest he stops us as well:

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 1:7-8)

Too young is just one excuse. We can come up with several—and it’s because we don’t like to come out of our comfort zones—and we certainly don’t like to face the possibility of rejection.

Notice God’s words: “Do not be afraid! I am with you! I will rescue you if you get in a bind!” Note the similarity to the words Jesus gave the disciples at the great commissioning: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me”… and “I will be with you always.” Or in the words Paul tells us in Romans 8 when he reminds us that nothing can separate us from God and his love.

Sure, we can start out like Jeremiah and be a bit fearful and timid at the beginning, but if we believe God and take him at his word, we can also be strong and powerful and impactful like Jeremiah, who became one of the bravest of God’s prophets, facing down powerful leaders of nations. God was with Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s words would be God’s words. God is with you—your words can be his words.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jer. 1:9-10)

When God calls, he empowers us with what we need to fulfill that calling. He doesn’t call you to be a leader and not give you gifts of leadership. He doesn’t call you to be a pastor and not give you gifts to be a shepherd leader. He doesn’t call you to be a prayer warrior and not give you the ability to pray with and for others. Whatever God calls you to do, he gifts you to do.

He reached out and touched Jeremiah’s mouth—letting Jeremiah know that he would be given the words to say as he prophesied. Again, God is saying, I am with you—I will never leave nor forsake you—I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.

And because of this, Jeremiah was able to uproot and tear down things that were not of God, to destroy and overthrow things that were destroying God’s people, and then to build up and to plant.

We could share similar stories from Scripture: David and John the Baptist were both chosen from the womb, and you were chosen before the foundation of the earth to participate in the uprooting and tearing down that Jesus is doing in this world as we share his love and his life with others. You are participating in destroying and overthrowing the lies people hear about who God is and about what he is doing. Jesus has invited you to join him in building and planting—building his kingdom, and planting good fruit through your life.

God didn’t call you to himself because of your great talents and abilities—(he gave you those talents and abilities)—he called you because of his great love for you. Like Jeremiah, David, Samuel and others, we are often taken aback by God’s calling. “Why me? I’m nothing special. I can’t do this. I don’t have any talents.”

To this God replies: “I make you special. You can do this because I am with you and in you and I will even tell you what to say. You do have talents and abilities. I know, because I formed them in you when you were in the womb. I have been with you, and I will be with you always.”

Jeremiah and David lacked the qualities and experience necessary for their callings. Jeremiah was young and fearful and hadn’t a clue as to what he was supposed to say. David spent his youth, not in a palace, but out in the fields herding sheep. Did these factors stop them from fulfilling their callings? No.

God was not unaware of who they were. As with all those he calls, God fills in the gaps. He gave Jeremiah the words he should speak and promised him protection from those who would seek to harm him. God was faithful to Jeremiah, to David, to Jesus, to Paul, to many, many others, and he is faithful to you and to your calling.

It’s obvious most of us haven’t had the kind of callings that Jeremiah and David had, but we’ve all been called by God. He has called us into a special relationship with himself. He has called us to join with him in sharing what we have with the world—the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Is that dangerous work? It could be. It has been for Christians historically, and still is. Many Christians are being persecuted around this world.

Maybe you feel too young or too old for your calling. God has called you anyway. Are you introverted and shy? God has called you anyway. Maybe you’ve made some pretty bad mistakes in your life that you’re not proud of. Not a problem. You are forgiven! God has called you anyway. Trust God to supply what you lack.

While we haven’t all been called to some special vocation like Jeremiah or David, we have all been called by God to share his good news and to be the light and salt in this dark world. Tend to your calling. Look at the people God has placed in your life and ask God who he wants you to spend more time with. Then build relationships with them so you have opportunity to share God’s love and life. Do what God has called you to do—join him in the great commission of bringing his light and truth to others. You’ve been called, and God doesn’t make mistakes, so ask him where he is asking you to participate. Let’s tend to our calling!


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever felt called to something—ministry, service—like God gifted you to do something specific? Share. Have you wondered if you have a calling? Do you wonder what God has called you for? To do?
  • Put yourself in Jeremiah’s sandals. How would it feel to have God tell you he formed you in the womb and had appointed you to a particular calling before you were even born?
  • Jeremiah said he was too young. What reasons (excuses) do you hear people using to get out of serving in the church? What excuses have you given?
  • What do you think it means, “When God calls, he empowers” Share an example of someone you know, or share an example about yourself. Do you feel God has empowered you?
  • Take a moment and think about the things you enjoy doing. How can these be used for God’s glory and service? What are you passionate about? Who gave you that passion? Why?
  • Psalm 71 reminds us that Jesus is our hope and refuge. It also says he is our confidence. What does that mean to you?
  • In the love chapter (1 Cor. 13) Paul describes the perfect love—many say he is describing God. What attribute of God’s love means the most to you? What attribute do you try to live out in your life? What area do you struggle with?

Sermon for January 27, 2019

Scripture Readings
Neh. 8:1-10 • Ps. 19:1-14 • 1 Cor. 12:12-31a • Luke 4:14-21

Jesus’ Inaugural Address

(Luke 4:14-30)

Note to preacher: For the introduction you might talk about inaugural addresses you’ve heard---ones with hollow promises concerning what the speaker says they will do, all the while knowing they won’t or can’t.

During the season of Epiphany, most of our Gospel readings focus on the early part of Jesus’ public ministry, showing him taking aim at the idols people worship. Much like explosions purposefully set to demolish a building, Jesus demolishes our idolatrous temple.

Two weeks ago, in Luke 3, we heard John the Baptist calling the people of God, the Jews, to repentance—not just repenting of idolatrous practices, but the idolatrous content of their hearts. BOOM! Our self-righteousness is blown to bits.

Then last week, in John 2, we saw Jesus demolish expectations by his focus on relationships when he turned water into wine at a wedding party. BOOM! Our self-centered agendas come tumbling down.

Today, the demolition continues. In our reading in Luke 4, Jesus takes aim at the idolatry of exclusivity. He tears down our human tendency to be judgmental—to determine who is “in” and who is “out.” He topples our understanding of who the deplorables are as compared to God’s favorites. BOOM! Any idea of “us versus them” comes tumbling down.

Some context will help here: The Jews of that time believed God would deliver them by destroying their enemies—particularly the Roman occupiers. Based on their reading of the Old Testament, they saw this deliverance as largely physical and political, with Israel being exalted among the nations as God’s favorite. From that perspective, the rest of the world could, quite literally, be damned.

In a rather shocking way, Jesus comes into town, railing against this attitude of exclusivity. Let’s look at Luke, chapter 4:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. (Luke 4:14-15)

Jesus Teaches in the Synagogues
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Jesus had just gone through a time of severe testing—a time when he was emptied so that he could be filled with the Holy Spirit as he begins his public ministry. Now, in the power of the Spirit he comes teaching:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)

Jesus was doing what visiting rabbis were invited to do: read from the scroll of Scripture, then offer  a short sermon as commentary. But something is different here. The congregation is aware of this Jesus guy, and what he has been up to. Word had spread far and wide about his teaching. And here they were, waiting for him to say something clever.

You can imagine their shock when, after reading a passage from Isaiah, Jesus then declares, “It’s about me—what Isaiah prophesied is now happening!”

BOOM! Another support beam blown up. Jesus was reading about God’s great deliverance of Israel—the deliverance they are all waiting for. Yet, he makes it sound dramatically different from anything they thought it would be.

Jesus is talking about those who are the undesirable, those who are broken and on the margins: the blind, the poor, the prisoners, the oppressed. Luke’s Gospel often talks about Jesus’ special love for the poor and downtrodden. But the definition of “poor” here is wider than that. It describes those who are of low social status in that society: women, children, disabled people, the blind. Here Jesus is stating that the vision of God’s kingdom starts with and always includes such people.

One commentator refers to Jesus’ declaration here as his “inaugural address.” Newly elected presidents, in their inaugural addresses set forth their vision for what their time in office will look like. Rather than talking about specific plans, they tend to focus on the tone and themes for their time in office. They might emphasize national unity, economic recovery, or foreign relations. But Jesus begins his public ministry by demolishing the people’s expectations of what the kingdom of God will be like. The kingdom is not for those who think they have it all together, but for those who know they are broken. That’s the bombshell here: Jesus makes it clear that he has not come to save the righteous, but sinners. He didn’t come to rain fire down on the bad guys, but to show the good guys and the bad guys that they need a Savior.

Filmmaker Mel Gibson gave himself a cameo in his movie The Passion of Christ. Rather than taking a large, heroic part, he portrayed the executioner who drove the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet. Those who know they would have been the one holding the hammer are on their way to the kingdom. But it’s easy to miss this mindset in the Western world where Christianity has been the dominant religion for centuries.

But times are changing. Though most of us remember the time when almost everyone went to church and the world stopped on Sunday, younger generations are growing up in a world where a Christian worldview is a minority position. Can we Christians approach other viewpoints with humility rather than with fear and bitterness? Can we learn to be thankful that we know Christ rather than condemning those who don’t? The saved hostage doesn’t judge those who are still imprisoned—he aches for them, prays for them, is grateful every moment that he has been rescued. Let’s let that be our attitude.

Jesus’ strongest, critical words were for the most religious people—those who think they have it all together, and so are quite unpleasant to be around. In contrast, it can be joyful and freeing to hang with people who know they don’t have it all together—folks like recovering addicts who have looked in the face of complete loss, even death, and know that every blessing in their lives is an added, undeserved bonus. They live with a certain freedom, knowing what it’s like to lose everything, knowing that they are just as capable of evil as the so-called “bad guys.”

In his inaugural address, Jesus says he is proclaiming “the year of the Lord’s favor.” In doing so, he is referencing what is addressed in the Old Testament book of Leviticus:

Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields. (Lev. 25:10-12)

In the year of jubilee, which occurred every 50 years, all property was to be returned to its original owners, and the land rested from being cultivated. Those who had become indentured servants due to poverty were set free. It was a year of liberation, return of property, rest and simplicity. The people were to live on what grew naturally, letting the land and the people rest. This would have been a simpler time. Wealth and competition would have been at a lull because everyone was living under the same restrictions.

Sadly, there is no record that the year of jubilee was ever kept. Yet here is Jesus proclaiming that it’s ultimate fulfillment has arrived. You see, the Sabbath day and Sabbath years pointed to the great Jubilee—the great and ultimate rest and deliverance for the people of God.

Last week in John chapter 2 we read about Jesus’ inaugural miracle—turning water into wine, the symbol and lubricant of partying. Now here in Luke 4 , Jesus gives his inaugural address, proclaiming the true Jubilee.

We are God’s people, you shall know us by our parties? By our feasting? No, Jesus is declaring that the people of God will be identified by simple joys, by starting over from ground zero. Over-complicated, hyperactive, sin-infested ways of “who owes what to whom” and “who offended whom” and “who’s winning and  who’s losing” need to be demolished, so that we can start from scratch.

The Jews in the synagogue that day were not thrilled by what Jesus declared, particularly when he, in not-so-veiled terms, went on to explain how God delivered other nations—gentile nations—instead of them:

There were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian. (Luke 4:25-27)

God cared about Naaman the Syrian—commander of Israel’s enemy? Jesus’ radical point is that the Jubilee is for everyone, for all nations. The release from oppression he declares is not just for Jews—it is release for ALL people from the most brutal tyrant of all: OURSELVES.

Incensed by Jesus’ declaration, the Jews took him to the edge of a nearby cliff, intending to kill him:

 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. (Luke 4:28-29)

Not long before this, Jesus had been atop the highest point of the Jerusalem temple (Luke 4:9-12), invited by the devil to throw himself down to prove his identity as the Son of God. Now Jesus stands atop a high cliff near Nazareth. At the temple, the devil twisted the words of Psalm 91 to try to tempt Jesus to show off. But Jesus refused. Now, due to his humble obedience to God, Jesus faces execution. But he is delivered, perhaps by angels:

[Jesus] walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (Luke 4:30)

Conclusion

As we ponder Jesus’ inaugural address, here are three takeaways:

  •  Jesus didn’t come for those who think they have it all together, but for those who know they are broken. We would be the one holding the hammer and nails at Jesus’ crucifixion. He knows that—he’s always known it. Everything in life is extra, every blessing we have, a gift; so let’s be freshly grateful.
  • We as God’s people need to be gentle with those who don’t call themselves Christians. Jesus gives several examples here of God’s mercy shed on those who are “outsiders.” He had his strongest words for the religious establishment, for the US not the THEM. Let’s continue to tell truth in love, and be known for our welcoming and hospitality, for our feasting, instead of how well we withdraw from those who are not like us. Let’s pray for others, get into their lives, be living examples of Jubilee.
  • The year of Jubilee that Jesus declared has never ended. It is the year—the era in which we, through him, are released from sin, guilt and shame. Do you need that time, that Jubilee, in your life? Is there something you need to let go of? Some bitterness, some rage against someone, or against life itself? Let this be your year of Jubilee. Let this be the year when you claim God’s peace and love against all odds. Let this week be the start of you bringing Jubilee to someone close to you. Forgive, let go, love. This is what we do, and this is how we are known.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever watched a president’s inaugural address? In person? How do they compare with each other?
  • Throughout his ministry, and definitely in this passage, we see Jesus expanding the Israelites’ notion of who’s “in” and who’s “out.” Here he mentions Gentiles—even Israel’s enemies—who received God’s favor (Luke 4:24-27). What does it mean to show God’s love to those on the outside or in the fringes of society? Why is that important in the kingdom of Christ?
  • Jesus refers to the Year of Jubilee practice in Israel, a year in which indentured servants were freed, land was returned to its original owners, and debts were cancelled. How can we practice this as a church community today? How can we practice “Jubilee” in our own lives by forgiving, giving grace, giving love to those who don’t “deserve” it?
  • Here as in other places, we see Jesus “breaking the rules” by interpreting a passage in a brand-new way. Can you think of any other examples in the Gospels of Jesus “breaking the rules”? What do these changes in the program tell us about Jesus? Has Jesus ever “broken the rules” in your life?
  • Jesus didn’t come for those who think they have it all together, but for those who know they are broken and in need of him. What does it mean to live with this reality in mind? What does it mean not to trust in our own strength and street smarts, but instead in his gracious protection and provision? What does it mean to be in touch with our own brokenness—how does that change our approach to others and ourselves?
  • In Nehemiah 8:1-10, Ezra read from the Torah. What was the response of the people? How does it compare to when we hear God’s word read to us?
  • Read Psalm 19:1-14 and share what the words mean to you.
  • Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 in terms of who’s in and who’s out. What is God saying to you in this passage? What does it mean in saying that the body is made of many members? To whom would Jesus say, “I have no need of you”?