Sermon for September 29, 2019

Readings: Jeremiah 32:1-3, 6-15 • Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 • 1 Timothy 6:6-19 • Luke 16:19-31

This week’s theme is Our Hope is in God. The Psalmist reminds us to dwell in the shelter of the Almighty and he will provide what we need. Paul exhorts Timothy to put his hope in God, not in riches and earthly possessions. Luke shares Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man. The wealth and power of the rich man did not help him once he died. Rather, the “unseen one” who depended on God was in the presence of God. The sermon is based on the prophet Jeremiah’s purchase of land while he was under house arrest and Israel was in exile. It didn’t make sense, but God was giving him, and Israel, hope for the future.

Children’s church resources: https://sermons4kids.com/

The Time Capsule of Hope

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

In the borough of Queens, New York, there is a neighborhood called Flushing. In Flushing you will find Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the location of the 1939-1940 World’s Fair. A highlight of the World’s Fair was the “Immortal Well.” Fifty feet underneath this well is buried the 1938 time capsule.

In this capsule, which is made of cupaloy—a metal created specifically for the capsule—are the items of everyday life in 1938. A Sears and Roebuck catalog, a pack of Camel cigarettes, a dollar in change and dozens of books on microfilm were enclosed. This idea was to tell the future (in the year 6939) how we lived, how we expressed ourselves, how we were human.

Illustration: Share a time you made a time capsule or ask if any members made a time capsule and what they put in it.

Many of us at one time or another were involved in making a time capsule—maybe in a coffee can back our school days, or a more formal time capsule. In it we put little vestiges of life to tell generations ahead that we were here and what life was like.

You might say Jeremiah does the same thing in this odd story from his life. He makes an act of hope to tell future generations that Israel was still around, but most of all to tell his current generation that they are people of hope.

Let’s look at the context of where this story appears. Jeremiah has become a fixture in the culture of Jerusalem, having been a prophet whose career has already spanned twenty years. His message throughout is that God’s judgment will come on Israel, and that it will come through Babylon. At the same time, and just as durable, is Jeremiah’s promise of a hope and future for Israel.

Jeremiah was often called the “weeping prophet” and his book is laden with difficult-to-hear stories of judgment and destruction, a result of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Israel had taken up idol worship, even to the point of child sacrifice, and had abandoned the poor and vulnerable in their society. Hence God is restoring them to their identity as his people through judgment.

Right in the middle of these dark stories is this somewhat odd story of Jeremiah doing a land deal. Babylon is essentially at the gates of Israel when this occurs, and Jeremiah can probably see the smoke and fires of their encroaching camp through his window.

Because of Jeremiah’s unpleasant prophecies, the king put Jeremiah under house arrest. What a fascinating insight into power structure and status quo. How often have we locked up prophets? Throughout history, those who spoke truth, especially those who spoke it to powerful people, have been put on “house arrest” in one sense or another. There are the more dramatic of examples, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by Hitler. But there are many who are placed where their voice cannot be heard.

And so Jeremiah is on house arrest.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. (Jeremiah 32:1-3a NRSV)

Of course, this didn’t slow him down when it came to being a prophet. Typical of the Old Testament prophet who stared down death and persecution regularly, Jeremiah kept acting out his vocation as God’s prophet, and this time through action. Here’s what he said:

The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD. And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. (Jeremiah 32:6-9 NRSV)

This is a fascinatingly strange move. Jeremiah is buying a field in a doomed area. This isn’t a “wise investment” from any angle. The place he’s buying is about to become a smoking battlefield when Babylon gets through with it. He’s been prophesying for two decades now that Babylon was going to level Jerusalem, and now when they’re right outside the gates, he buys real estate.

Then Jeremiah has his time capsule made. Or at least the equivalent of it:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. (Jeremiah 32:14 NRSV)

Putting legal documents in an earthenware jar was a common practice back then. It was like a safety deposit box. For generations afterward, the documents would be safe and available to prove something had been done. Yet Jeremiah knows full well that the documents will mean nothing very soon. The land, even if he owns it, will be a burnt-up nowhere. But it won’t stay that way forever.

That’s why this is more like a time capsule than a safety deposit box. This is not Jeremiah making an investment in the future as much as a statement about the future: We were here. We lived. And we believe that God will restore us.

You have to love the closing line of the scene:

Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. (Jeremiah 32:15 NRSV)

As the people of God, we are people of hope, we:

  1. Believe in hope
  2. Act in hope
  3. Live in hope

Believe in hope

Jeremiah did this famous land deal not because the prices were rock bottom or as a psychological defense mechanism against the reality of the invasion, but because he believed in the future.

Yes, times were terrible, but Jeremiah knew it wouldn’t be that way forever.

For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come (Song of Solomon 2:11-12)

In God’s world, the seasons change. Life may be dark right now, but the light of spring will come. Whatever it is you’re going through here and now, the flowers will appear again on the earth in time.

The devil is the ultimate absolutist. Every time something horrible happens—the diagnosis comes back or the marriage disintegrates—he’ll try to convince you that this is how life really is and always will be. He tries to convince us that the center doesn’t hold, and the only thing that’s “really real” is disappointment and loss.

But as the people of hope, we know that life is more complex than that. There are seasons of pain, for sure, but seasons of plenty and peace as well, and the best is yet to come.

In the end, Jesus’ death was temporary, and his resurrection was permanent. The hardest ice melts and makes water to help the wildflowers grow. As a forest burns, the heat of the fire opens seed pods allowing new growth to occur. As people of hope, we believe in hope. We don’t believe that war, pain, hardship, devastation, addiction, and sickness have the final word.

Act in hope

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. (Jeremiah 32:14 NRSV)

Jeremiah acts in hope. He doesn’t just have some kind of airy, vague feeling about hope—he acts on it. He takes concrete action to show his hope. This isn’t an investment in his future—this is an investment in THE future. He’s pretty sure he won’t even be around to claim this land. He’s acting in hope.

There’s an ancient story of a rabbi named Akiva, who in A.D. 135 was tortured to death by the Romans. As they skinned him, the rabbi’s disciples could hear him singing the Shema: “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord your God is one…” This was the passage the Jewish people sang constantly as an act of identity. In the midst of his torture, right before his death, his biographers say he sang the Shema simply because it was “the time to sing the Shema.” He wasn’t crying out in a deathbed prayer, he wasn’t screaming religious rhetoric, he was praying because it was time to pray.

In his action, like Jeremiah, he showed that God’s math, God’s reality, doesn’t run by our rules. He acted in hope. Jeremiah acted in hope, leaning on God’s promise that “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”

Note: this is a good place for a story of a hopeful, counterintuitive action you took in a hard time. An example in my life: our family was going through a very difficult period and my dad and I toasted to better times. A small, symbolic act of hope.

Live in hope

As the people of hope, we live in hope. Hope is where set up camp. We believe in hope, we act in hope and someday we will live in the fullness of that hope. Listen to Paul as he writes to his disciple Timothy, which is another reading from our lectionary readings today.

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Timothy 6:6-9 NRSV)

Our hope is not in what we have, but in knowing who has us.

Paul continues to tell Timothy who to focus on:

He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see, to him be honor and eternal dominion. (1 Timothy 6:15b-16 NRSV)

Paul talks often about living in hope—the life that is free of the trappings and addictions of the ego. Hope is in the life that finds sustenance in Christ and doesn’t require that sustenance from other people and pursuits that can never satisfy. Hope provides a life of freedom.

So Jeremiah puts the deed in an earthenware jar. And generations past have put symbols of their lives in time capsules and buried them. The cross of Jesus is the symbol that reminds us to believe in hope, act in hope, and live in hope. This is the message that hope—not hate, sin, or despair—will have the last word and “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Who are some of the “unseen” people today?
  • What does it mean to see others as God sees them?

From the sermon: read Jeremiah 32:1-3, 6-15

  • Have you ever buried a time capsule? What was in it?
  • Meditate on verse 15: “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” What does it mean to you?
  • In the sermon we talked about believing in hope and also acting on hope. What is the difference between the two?
  • In the sermon, we talked about the temptation to believe that “real life” is only struggle and disappointment. How does it change our lives to believe that hope, joy, and love are the “real thing” and have the final word?
  • Are there tools and faith practices that helped you through hard, “hopeless” times in the past? How can you cultivate this hope in other times in your life? How can you share your strength with others?

Quote for thought:

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” —J.R.R. Tolkien

 

Sermon for September 22, 2019

Readings: Jeremiah 8:18-19:1 • Psalm 79:1-9 • 1 Timothy 2:1-7 • Luke 16:1-13

This week’s theme is Praying for others, that they may see and know the truth. Jeremiah shares how his heart is faint at the sin of the people. He weeps for those who have rejected God and gone the way of sinners. The Psalmist continues this theme by asking God to not hold the sins of past generations against us. He prays for forgiveness and deliverance. Paul reminds Timothy to pray for all leaders because God’s desire is for all to know him and live in the knowledge of the truth. Luke shares a practical application in his parable of the shrewd manager. Jesus tells us to use what we have to gain friends, so that we are welcomed into eternal dwellings. What do we have? We have the truth others need. We pray that God opens their eyes and gives us opportunity to share that truth.

Children’s church resources: https://sermons4kids.com/

Who’s in Charge?

1 Timothy 2:1-7

You may want to share some experiences you had with substitute teachers that will lead to the introduction below.

Have you ever served as a substitute teacher? Most of us can remember substitute teachers coming to class. It’s not an easy assignment—especially if there’s conflict that you need to step in to resolve. If the class doesn’t think the sub has any authority, there’s little chance the sub will get much resolved. When the teacher’s authority is passed on to the sub, then the class will usually respond to the sub as if he or she were the actual teacher. You have probably witnessed this at some point.

The situation that produced Paul’s letter to Timothy is a little like a teacher calling in a sub. After meeting Timothy’s faithful mother and grandmother, Paul found in Timothy a man who had a passion for Jesus. Paul knew Timothy would be a future leader worth mentoring. So, he mentored Timothy for many years and sent him on missions to different churches.

When Paul received news that there was trouble in the Ephesus church, and he couldn’t go there personally, he sent Timothy! But this was not an easy assignment for Paul’s protégé. A group of leaders found a foothold in Ephesus and were teaching some damaging ideas about Jesus and what it looked like to follow him. Timothy was sent to confront these leaders and set things straight. He was walking into a hornet’s nest. After Timothy arrived in Ephesus, Paul sent him this letter to give him instructions to complete his mission.

The first chapter of 1 Timothy is where we find Paul commissioning Timothy to confront the unfaithful teachers. Even though this is a letter to Timothy, it is also for the sake of the church. What a church believes will be evident in how they live. The teaching the Ephesus church had been receiving was leading some away from a genuine faith in Christ to an obsession in “meaningless” talk about things they knew nothing about. Timothy, who wasn’t the pastor in Ephesus, was sent to correct this dangerous trend. Paul’s letter not only laid out some clear instructions for Timothy to follow, but it gave him what every substitute teacher (or pastor) needs—authority! There was no question that Timothy was acting on Paul’s behalf.

What Paul did for Timothy with this letter is what Jesus has done for us in his written word and in sending his Spirit. Jesus is still in charge, but he sends us out in his name on a mission to share the good news of who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. We can go in confidence and boldness, even when we must stand up to troublesome leaders, because we go in the authority of the Son and in the power of the Spirit. It’s a comforting thought to know that whatever hornet’s nest we may be sent into, we can be faithful to his mission because we know he will be faithful to us.

Let’s look at the instruction Paul gives Timothy recorded in chapter 2.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

The first thing we are called to do is pray! Pray for those we are trying to reach. Pray for direction, inspiration, and wisdom. Pray for opportunity to speak truth into people’s lives, and pray that truth is received. When you go into a stressful situation, don’t go in defense, looking at people as problems. Paul reminds Timothy to pray for all people—everyone. Prayer gives us confidence—the confidence that comes from not only knowing Jesus, but from knowing that Jesus has us and leads us.

Most of us may never be called to settle a crisis in another church, but as believers, all of us are called to bear witness to who Jesus is. Sometimes this occurs in the teeth of some “leaders” who have a different message. Every day we walk out our front doors, we are called to be witnesses of Jesus, the true King of all creation. And we often do this in someone else’s “territory.” But even antagonists belong to God and are loved by him.

Paul’s “first of all” instruction urges believers to be in prayer for “everyone.” Although four types of prayer are mentioned, “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings,” Paul is not instructing a necessity for different forms of prayer. He is simply laying emphasis that all these different prayers are to “be made for everyone.” Paul is stressing the importance for prayer in community. Just as the Father, Son, Spirit, do everything in relationship, we are to carry out the church’s mission in communion with God and one another. Prayer is never an individual act even when we are praying alone. As God’s children forming the body of Christ, we are all connected. What happens to one affects us all. When we pray for others, we are being mindful of this truth, that God has called us to live in relationship with one another as we live out God’s call for the church.

Notice who is specifically included in the “everyone”: Paul says we are to pray “for kings and those in authority.” Now, don’t miss the super-charged political statement Paul has just used here. When Paul calls for prayer “for kings” he does so under the nose of the Roman emperor, some of whom were known for their persecution of Christians. Living under Roman rule, it was understood that if you wanted things to go well with you, if you wanted peace, you would do well to pray to the emperor’s gods. When Paul urges Timothy and the church to pray “for” the kings and not “to” their gods, he is sending a subtle message of who is in charge. And it’s not the emperor.

Is it possible the church has forgotten Paul’s instructions for its witness to the world? How might the church’s witness look if we were to pray for our leaders rather than get caught up in the present polarization? Instead of organizing a march or protest to let the leaders know how we feel, what about organizing a church prayer meeting to talk with God instead. Perhaps our political Facebook posts and our social activist attempts give more weight to the rulers of our age than the King of all ages. The Father can be trusted with our concerns far more than the leaders of our time.

It’s a question of who we believe is really in charge. If you ever feel like someone has too much control over your life, pray for them. It’s the first thing Paul says we should do, and it’s a good reminder to yourself of who is actually in control.

Our prayers are that we will be able to “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Paul doesn’t mean by this that we pray so we can live on easy street, oblivious to what’s going on around us. No, Paul is concerned about the church’s witness to the world.

Paul continues:

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

We pray for an environment where Jesus is seen as the true Savior who brings peace. Notice the words “all people.” We pray to align ourselves with God’s will—his desire, which is to bring peace to everyone, including the “kings and those in authority.” Wrapped up in this salvation that God wants to bring everyone into is the “knowledge of the truth.” This can be seen in contradiction with what the false teachers were doing in the Ephesus church. The knowledge of the truth Paul is concerned with is not “meaningless talk” but rather a knowing of the Father revealed through the Son. We see Paul wanting the church to bear witness to the God who cares and loves everyone. Paul will list three affirmations of why this is true.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

  1. First, “there is one God…” Over and against the many gods worshiped throughout the Roman empire, this understanding of God’s oneness reveals that God is the only God of all people. Out of his oneness we find that he is the God who is for all mankind.
  2. Second, “there is also one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” This statement means that mediation is needed for humanity to be reconciled to God, but it also means that such a reconciliation is accomplished by this one God, through Jesus Christ. The fact that Jesus Christ is himself human highlights that he fully identifies with all God has not reached out in Jesus to provide salvation for just a select few.
  3. Last, Paul makes it explicit that Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all people.” With this statement, he sums up his point that the God we see in Jesus Christ is the one God who is for all people. Therefore, he is the only God we bear witness to. There is salvation in no other king, ruler, authority, leader or god.

And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. (1 Timothy 2:7)

Paul wraps up this first instruction for Timothy by reminding him that Paul also was “appointed a herald and an apostle.” Paul understands that his authority was given by God to be a witness to the one who appointed him. Unlike the false teachers Timothy will have to deal with, Paul is “telling the truth.” He is “a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.” His authority is grounded in faith and truth. As our belief and actions align with the reality of who God is for all people, we too will find we have been given the authority to be witnesses to our world.

Reflection:

  • Are we sincerely praying for our leaders? As Christians, we should stay out of politics because our loyalty is to Jesus’ kingdom. We should be praying for all our leaders—that we may live in peace and have the freedom to share God’s love and life with others.
  • Do we see our leaders and others as those Jesus came to save? We pray they come to see Jesus as the answer to their political and social issues—that they come to the knowledge of the truth of who Jesus is, and who they are in him.
  • Are we bearing witness to our one God and mediator, Jesus Christ?

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life:

  • What are some things you see that need change, that are beyond your reach?
  • How do you pray for someone (a leader) with whom you rarely agree on policy?

From the sermon:

  • Can you think of a time you had to carry out a task but were not given the authority or support to do so? What was your experience? Discuss how the Bible gives us the authority to act and speak the gospel in our world today.
  • Can you share any examples where being a witness today is like standing up to “false teachers”? What issues in our culture and society present the biggest challenge in being a faithful witness to the gospel?
  • Discuss ways believers can sometimes pray more to the authorities in our world rather than for. What are some ways churches can engage intentionally praying for those in authority?
  • How would our prayers look if we had a focus on being a witness of Jesus in the world rather than getting control in the world? What might you pray for?

Sermon for September 15, 2019

Readings: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 • Psalm 14:1-7 • 1 Timothy 1:12-17 • Luke 15:1-10

This week’s theme is God’s desire is to seek and save. Jeremiah talks about the foolishness of those who run from God, believing he is not for them. The Psalmist says while “fools say there is no God,” he is in the company of the righteous. Paul reminds Timothy how God’s grace saved him from his past, and that Jesus came to save sinners, “of whom I am the worst.” The sermon focuses on Luke 15 where Jesus shares three parables showing God’s desire to seek and find those who have become lost and don’t know his goodness. The sermon looks at two of those parables.

Children’s church resources: https://sermons4kids.com/

God the Loser

Luke 15:1-10

Lost. We all know what it means to be lost, especially as a kid; it’s a universal part of childhood. You look around. The surroundings are suddenly foreign, every face is suddenly a stranger. You end up with nothing to offer but your own helplessness, defenseless against the world.

As you get older and have kids, or take care of kids, you learn what it’s like to lose someone. Kids wander off like it’s a competitive sport! They’re always chasing some shiny thing or drifting toward the toy aisle. Suddenly you look around for one face—you might be surrounded by them—and it is not to be seen. You squint and strain and imagine the worst.

When the child finally does appear, you’re flooded with a dizzying cocktail of relief, anger, joy, and exasperation. Where have you been?! I’m so glad you’re okay! Where were you?!

Share a time when you lost, or thought you lost one of your kids or grandchildren, or when they thought they were lost. Share the emotion of panic and anxiousness that was replaced with amazing joy when your child was found or found you.

Our sermon title for today is “God the Loser.” Before you jump to judgment, hear what I have to say. We will break the sermon into three parts – let’s look first at the loser, then discuss the characteristics of the lost, and then talk about the loving response.

The loser

Ask yourself who is the loser in the Luke 15 parables, and what do we learn from looking at them? The first two parables are next to a parable you often hear about, called the Prodigal Son.

To draw these parables together requires us to first look at the context. The Gospels were compiled by the Holy Spirit through the early Christian community in a specific way for a specific reason. The meaning of a passage is always enhanced by its context.

Verse 1 sets us up the context:

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

This is the key to these parables; this is what ties them all together. Jesus is hanging out with the undesirables. He isn’t approving of their lifestyles nor participating in their activities; he is simply hanging out with them. The Pharisees did not even want to be seen with such people; they didn’t want to be anywhere near them. There was a strong separation between “us” and “them” in that culture.

Jesus, instead of just blasting them directly, tells some stories. He slips a few truth bombs in there that have been exploding ever since.

First, he tells them the story of the lost sheep, then of the lost coin, and finally of the lost child. Anybody see a thread through all these three stories? Loss.

The main character of these stories is the one who lost something. The first is the Shepherd, the second is the Widow, and the third, the Father. The Father is the main character of the Prodigal Son story. Sure, the son does his thing, but the longing, the celebration, and most of the spotlight is taken up by the Father. Our Father.

More than anything, these stories show us the Father’s heart. They answer the first question that should be on our minds when we read Scripture: What does this say about God, or how does this apply to God? The usual question for most of us—how does this apply to me?is extremely important, but it’s not the first question. The first thing we want to know from Scripture is: how does this passage show us God’s heart?, followed quickly by: how do I live in the reality of who God is?

There’s plenty we can learn about how to apply ourselves to the reality of God here. The focus of these stories is on the response of God, not the worthiness or appropriate response of the found person or object.

If you’ve ever worked in a helping profession, such as a nurse, emergency services worker, teacher, social worker, pastor or many others, you learn quickly that you can’t rely on someone’s response to motivate you. People’s responses will range from gratitude and life transformation to indifference and outright hostility. Our responses to God’s love will range back and forth all through our lives; sometimes we will be unspeakably grateful, sometimes we will be spoiled brats.

Isn’t it a fantastic blessing then that God’s love is dependent on who he is and not who we are? Isn’t it amazing that these stories focus on a love that searches the whole house, that leaves the 99 sheep, that sees the rebellious son “coming from a long way off”?

Do we in turn take this love to the world? Do we serve because of how people respond to our help, or how much attention it gets us? If we serve people only when we get the response we want, we will burn out quickly, and many of those in need (of our financial support, attention, and most of all love) will fall through the cracks. No, Jesus wanted the Pharisees to respond to his stories by copying the finder, not the one who was found. We serve because of who Jesus is, not who they are and not how they respond.

The beautiful touch that Jesus adds to these stories is to portray the loser—God—the way he does. First as a shepherd. In that culture, a shepherd would have been an undesirable. They were considered uncouth rednecks and untrustworthy by the rest of the culture. Then he portrays God as a woman. Women were forgotten in the culture as well; they had almost no rights, their legal testimony was no good, and they were considered possessions of the men in their lives. Finally, he portrays God as the father of a rebellious son (in the end two rebellious sons). Any parent of a rebellious child will tell you how deeply and often they blame themselves for their child’s choices, and how often society blames them for the way their kids turned out. Jesus puts himself—as God the loser—in these stories as people who were marginalized and heavily judged in that society. He is the one who loses the sheep, the coin, the child—and then finds them again with joy.

The lost

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Luke 15:4-6)

Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?” (Luke 15:8)

Leaving the 99 in the wilderness? Most of us can do the math here. Leaving 99 of something to find one is not a good idea. “In the open country” means that the shepherd left them unattended and open to theft so he could find just the one.

There is no indication that this sheep is worth any more than the others—it’s just the missing one.

The coin story is much the same. One of the ten coins, which means it’s worth the same as the others, was worth about a day’s wages. Right now, in the American economy, the average of a day’s wages—from the rich people to the guy who works at McDonalds—is about $150. Now, you and I might go searching for $150 if we lost it, but we probably wouldn’t “call our friends and neighbors” together for a party to say, “I found three fifty-dollar bills—let’s party!”

One sheep. One silver coin. Roughly a day’s wages, and here the loser is having a party. In these two stories, there’s no discussion of how these things got lost; there’s no blame and no shame involved.

The story where it seems there should be blame and shame involved, the prodigal son story, ends in a feast. That story also ends with love and joy, and with the guilty one being elevated to a princely level.

The loving response

The shepherd “calls his friends together and says, ‘Rejoice with me, I have found my lost sheep’” (Luke 15:6b).

The widow “calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me, I have found my lost coin’” (Luke 15:9).

The father said, “‘For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate” (Luke 9:24).

All these stories have this out-sized response from the finder. Instead of begrudgingly bringing the lost back into the fold, the loser rejoices exuberantly that they are home. Grace is always generous. Grace always gives back extra.

Both parables end by saying, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” The lost are found, the loser gets back what was lost. God wins again!

“Rejoice with me.” Grace always restores to the community. The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son are brought out of isolation and back into the group, back into the community. Where the results of sin brought the prodigal son down into the pig sty, grace brought him to a party where everyone was celebrated and recognized. God the loser finds the lost and restores each to communion.

Here are a few things to chew on today…

Know the Father’s heart toward us. The shepherd with the lost sheep, the widow with her lost coin, the father watching the horizon. God’s pursuit of us is relentless, and it is against everything in our nature that leads us to walk away from him. Jesus represents God as a shepherd and a woman—both people groups that at the time weren’t thought of as desirable or important in that society. He will take on whatever disguise he needs and will search the corners, search the fields, search the horizons for you.

You are special and unique, and so is everyone else. There is nothing that attracted the finder to the coin or the sheep—they were just like all the others. And that’s the point. God restlessly searches for them anyway. So, if you hate yourself—this is the answer. If you’re in love with yourself—this is the answer.

Jesus ate with tax-collectors and sinners. We have many examples that he didn’t approve of their lifestyles—he delivered these people from their vices all the time. But he ate with them, which was a strong symbol of friendship in those days. He spent time with them and shared life with them. Do we do that? Do you have authentic relationships with non-Christians or people who would be considered “tax-collectors and sinners”? When you first become a Christian, sometimes you need some space from your old lifestyle, but when you are no longer a spiritual infant, God calls us back out to share his love and hospitality with the world.

God the Loser. The one who looked for us, the lost, because of his love and not because we earned it. May we be found again today.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life and the sermon:

  • Have you ever lost something that was important to you? An item whose worth/value only you understood?
  • Read the three stories in Luke 15. Discuss how these stories “read” each other. Why do you think Jesus told these stories specifically?
  • Why do you think Jesus told parables? Why wouldn’t he just preach more directly? How have parables stood the test of time?
  • Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners,” which is the key to the parables that follow. Jesus’ choice of company always told us more about him than it did about them. What does it mean to “eat with” those who believe and live differently than we do? Would we be eating at the table with them and Jesus?
  • These parables are about the worth their finder gives them. What does it mean to live with a worth God gives us? Worth we don’t have to earn and that never changes? What freedom does that give us?

Quote to ponder:

“The question is not ‘How am I to find God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be found by him?’… The question is not ‘How am I to love God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be loved by God?’” —Henri Nouwen

Sermon for September 8, 2019

Readings: Jeremiah 18:1-11 • Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 • Philemon 1:1-21 • Luke 14:25-33

This week’s theme is God created you for his glory. Jeremiah uses the illustration of a potter to show that we are clay in the hands of the master potter. God knows what he is doing: we can trust him. The Psalmist reminds us that God knows all our thoughts; he created us in the womb. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Paul’s letter to Philemon is to ask Philemon to release Onesimus for the Lord’s service. “Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you.” Luke reminds us that we cannot claim to be disciples if we don’t follow Jesus fully. Jesus will complete the work he has begun in us. With this affirmation, we can give up all and follow him.

Children’s church resources: https://sermons4kids.com/

He Knows You: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Psalm 139:1-6(NRSV) Psalm 139:13-18(NRSV)

Introduction: Share a time when you thought you got away with something, but your parents knew what you had been up to. You might want to ask the members to share a humorous story about thinking they got away with something as a child. If you play Speaking of Life, you may want to use a different introductory story.

I recently heard the story about a mother of a preschooler who had baked chocolate chip cookies. She told him that he couldn’t have one until after dinner, and then she went off to work in the laundry room. When she came back, the little step stool he used to reach anything on the kitchen counter was sitting in front of the cupboard, and sure enough, one of the cookies was gone. The mother went to the boy, found him with crumbs sticking to his mouth, and asked him if he ate a cookie. He looked at her incredulously and said, “How did you know?”

We are often like that preschooler when we forget that our Creator knows us intimately: the good, the bad, and ugly. He knows when we are at our most loving best, and he sees us when we are at our most deceptive worst. Through it all, his commitment to us never wavers.

Psalm 139 is an interesting text to consider when reflecting about the omniscient nature of God. Let’s look at a couple of interesting ideas from this psalm:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. (Psalm 139:1-6 NRSV)

God is a personal God seeking a relationship with us.

The psalmist uses both first person pronouns (I/my) and second-person pronouns (you/your). This shows how the relationship between humanity and God flourishes when there is an open honesty: no hiding, no holding back. It does no good to try to hide, as the psalmist points out.

Illustration: You may want to share a story of when your child tried to hide from you but was in plain sight. Share the similarity between this and our attempt to hide from God.

We often act as if God is not aware of us. Many see Christians as people who act one way on Sunday, and another way the rest of the week—as if we are in God’s presence only when we are worshipping at church. Theologian Walter Brueggemann says that “the Psalms are prayers addressed to a known, named, identifiable You.” God is not some undefined force, but the Father, Son, and Spirit seeking a relationship with humanity. Twentieth-century Jewish philosopher Martin Buber offers this reflection on our ever-present God who is always seeking us:

Where I wander – You! Where I ponder – You! Only You, You again, always You! You! You! You!

God knows every part of us, and he wants us to know him.

The verb “know” occurs seven times in this passage (in verses 1, 2, 4, 6, 14, and twice in 23). This Hebrew word yada’ (as found in other parts of the Bible) can mean anything from simply recognizing someone to having an intimate sexual relationship. God knows us (Ps. 139: 1, 2, 4, 6), so knowing God’s unchanging and omniscient character is a key factor in establishing an intimate relationship. A popular Christian worship song by Tommy Walker is called “He Knows My Name,” and the lyrics agree with what Psalm 139 tells us: “He knows my name; he knows my every thought. He sees each tear that falls and hears me when I call.”

God cares about our human bodies and shows us that it is good to be human.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. (Psalm 139:13-16 NRSV)

This passage shows us that our bodies are good. They are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” But what about those who don’t appear to be wonderfully made? It’s easy to think God made a mistake, or he wasn’t involved in the creation of someone born physically or mentally challenged. To believe this, we’d also have to believe God is not aware when we face a serious disease or physical challenge later in life. We’d have to second guess God and his plan for each one of us. We’d have to second guess his ability to work with us in every circumstance of life.

We don’t always know God’s plan, but if we think God is only involved in some cases, or in some people, we limit God and his ability to bring good and glory in all people. We don’t always know why we are created the way we are, but we can know that he who created us does know why. Further, we know that he is always there. As we were reminded in last week’s sermon, he never leaves us or forsakes us—regardless of the physical or mental limitations we may face.

God thinks human bodies are so good that the second Person of the Trinity, the Word, became flesh and took on a human body. He still has that human body today (Col. 2:9). We are encouraged to take care of the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

God has us on his mind.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you. (Psalm 139:17-18 NRSV)

How often do we try to figure God out, and fail? God, why did you allow this, why did you do that? Why didn’t you intervene? Why didn’t you heal? His thoughts and plans and dreams for us are far beyond what we can comprehend. But we can rest assured when it comes to the end of our lives, we find that he has always been with us.

Application:

We can rest in the truth that we are known intimately, and despite our failings, loved completely. Just like that preschooler who snitched a cookie before dinner, we are often surprised to read that our loving God knows everything about us. Even when we mess up, God is always on our side. He knows our thoughts and what we’re going to say before we say it (vv. 2-3).

Because we know God’s unchanging love and acceptance, we extend that same love and acceptance to others, even those who may seem different from or opposed to us.

We approach life recognizing the gift of grace we enjoy, and we are quick to extend that same grace to others, whether they “deserve” it or not. This grace will look different in every situation. Sometimes it means speaking the truth with love and kindness, and other times it means remaining silent. By resting in God’s love and committing ourselves to share that same love and grace, we constantly pray to understand how to respond in every situation. We no longer need to “win” or to “be right,” but we seek to show love and kindness in the best way possible.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life and the sermon:

  • Have you ever thought you had gotten away with something, only to find out later your parents knew? Share the story (but keep it light and humorous—this is not a time of confession).
  • How does Psalm 139 inform our view of God? What does this say about God’s character?
  • If God knows “even before a word is on [our tongues],” why do we feel the need to hide our failings?
  • This psalm honors the human body, saying we “are fearfully and wonderfully made.” How can we use this understanding to encourage ourselves to take care of this “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)?
  • How does understanding God’s total acceptance and love for us change the way we interact with others? What does that look like (in a practical sense) for our families, our work, and our church?

Sermon for September 1, 2019

Readings: Jeremiah 2:4-13 • Psalm 81:1, 10-16 • Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 • Luke 14:1, 7-14

This week’s theme is Remember whose you are. Jeremiah asks why Israel continually forsakes God after all he has done for them. The Psalmist reminds us to sing aloud to God, who is our strength. God rescued Israel but they turned from him and went their own way. He laments that his people won’t listen to him; his desire is to provide, to protect, to satisfy our needs. The author of Hebrews reminds us live in the truth that we are among those who are never forsaken. Because we are his, we are reminded: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have.” In Luke, Jesus tells the parable of the wedding feast, where he reminds us to not seek places of esteem but honor the one who invites us by appreciating the invitation and staying humble.

Children’s church resources: https://sermons4kids.com/

Privilege

Luke 14:1, 7-14, Hebrews 13:1-8(NRSV),
Hebrews 13:15-16(NRSV)

There is a lot of talk on social media about privilege. Privilege is defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.

Anyone who has ever flown has seen the privileged status of traveling first class. Not only do they board first, but they are often served a drink while the rest of us are still boarding. Later in the flight, while you are in a confined space, eating pretzels and drinking your soda or juice out of a plastic cup, you see first class passengers in comfortable seats, being served hot meals and drinks in glassware. Privilege has its…well, privileges.

Privilege is attractive and seductive. We often find ourselves against privilege when others have it and we don’t. But when we have it, it feels pretty nice. Privilege is often used as a negative label. Privilege can be gender—you have male privilege if you are going to an auto mechanic, female privilege if you are going to a nightclub. Then there is privilege associated with every culture—depending, of course, on which culture you are in.

Privilege isn’t necessarily bad, nor it is necessarily good. The question is, how do you act when you have privilege? How do you respond to others? How do you treat others who appear to have less privilege than you?

This is an important question for Christians because we are privileged to have a relationship with Father, Son and Spirit. We are privileged to know our Father, when many don’t. We are privileged to call Jesus our elder brother and our friend, when many can’t because they don’t know him. We are privileged to have hope and peace and security, when many have none. How do we respond to that privilege?

When those with privilege expect to be treated better than those without privilege, we face the problem we call pride. Pride is something we all struggle with from time to time. Privilege, if not kept in its proper place, can lead to looking down on others or leaving others out altogether. Jesus knew this and had several passages and parables dealing with privilege. We will look at one passage called “The Parable of the Wedding Feast.” We find this parable in Luke 14.

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. (Luke 14:1 NRSV)

Two quick things to notice here:

  1. Jesus was in the house of someone who was considered privileged – a prominent Pharisee, who had invited some guests over for lunch.
  2. He was being carefully watched – they wanted a reason to judge and condemn him.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher;’ then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11 NRSV)

You could call this a lesson in etiquette by Jesus.

The host of this party was a Pharisee—a member of the religious elite. He considered himself one of the privileged, and as is often the case, people like to sit next to the one they feel is the most important, or the privileged one. In his etiquette lesson, Jesus is telling us to think of others first. If you choose the best seats, you may be asked to move. “Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.” To exalt yourself—to assume you deserve a higher spot, or a better seat because you are among the privileged—requires you to lower others. You cannot exalt yourself without comparing yourself to others and determining they are not as exalted. See the issue here? It’s not just about shaming yourself, it’s also judging others as being “less than.”

When I read this passage, I can’t imagine the embarrassment of taking that walk of shame as all eyes in the room watch you take a lower position. They see your guilt and your sense of impropriety. This happens when we exalt the self because we believe we are privileged.

Now you would hope that good Christians would be above this kind of petty power grabbing. Surely, we wouldn’t squabble over such silly things as who gets the best seat at a meal, but the disciples squabbled over who was greatest, and sometimes we do as well.

Jesus’ etiquette lesson goes far beyond where to sit at a meal. Could this be about judging others as less than ourselves because of their beliefs? Their longevity in the congregation? Their status in society? Their doctrinal understanding? Their lifestyle? Their sins—which presumably are worse than our sins? Perhaps they would be lifted to a seat of honor because of how much they have already changed—changes we aren’t even aware of.

Jesus continues by addressing the host:

When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. Luke 14:12-14 NRSV)

Jesus is using exaggeration to make a point—be a blessing to others. In other words, don’t just invite the people of privilege. Invite those who have little or no privilege. Instead of being proud that some may desire to give place to us, it should be humbling that there are so many to whom we can give place.

Those of us who know our true identity as beloved children of the Father are also privileged to know we are forgiven, adopted, desired, included, and loved. What good does it do us to only seek audience with others who are equally privileged? I understand we need to build good relationship with each other, and we want to spend time together celebrating and worshipping, but this should not be our primary focus. Our primary focus should be on helping others understand the privilege offered to them through Jesus.

Any privilege we have should be used to serve and bless others. Jesus tells us to love others as he loves us. He gave up his privilege to become one of us. That’s the example we have and which we can follow.

  • If we have a voice, how can we use our voice to speak for those who don’t, or can’t speak for themselves?
  • If we have resources, how can we use them to work for the kingdom, to bless others who don’t have similar resources?
  • If we have time, how can we use our time to serve others and help them see a different side of Christianity?

Those of us who know Christ have privilege. How are we using that privilege? To get the best seat in the house, or to lead others to that seat? The author of Hebrews admonishes us to use our privilege for others.

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:1-2 NRSV)

The author then reminds us to remember those in prison and those who are mistreated as if we are the ones suffering. We are reminded to keep the marriage bed pure and to be content with what we have. Why? Because we know the promise of God:

I will never leave you or forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5b NRSV)

We have Jesus and he has us—that is the greatest privilege of all. Because of this privilege, we’ve been invited to participate in what Jesus is doing—sharing his love and his life with others.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:16 NRSV)

All who know Jesus are privileged. Not only to know him, but to participate in sharing him with others. When we share the gifts God has given us with others—hope, peace and love—and couple that with our time, talent and treasure, we are being a blessing to others, and he blesses us. This is the way of God, sharing with others. This is the way of the kingdom. It is a true privilege and honor to love, serve, praise and worship the living God, and share with those he loves.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life and the sermon:

  • Share a time you gave in to your pride. What was the outcome?
  • What comes to mind when you hear the word “privilege” or “privileged”?
  • Do you feel like you are privileged? Why or why not?
  • What were the guests trying to say about themselves when they chose the chief seats? What does it say about you when you choose a lower seat or place?
  • How can we come alongside those who are under-served and under-privileged?

Sermon for August 25, 2019

Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-10 • Psalm 71:1-6 • Hebrews 12:18-29 • Luke 13:10-17

This week’s theme is God our deliverer. God told Jeremiah he had formed him from the womb to be a prophet and there was nothing to fear. God would provide the words he needed. The Psalm reminds us that God is our refuge when we cry out for deliverance; he is our hope and confidence. The author of Hebrews tells us we’ve not come to the burning mountain like the Israelites, but to Mt. Zion—the city of the living God. In Jesus we receive a new kingdom that cannot be shaken. The sermon focuses on the passage in Luke. Here we learn that Jesus frees us from whatever prevents us from standing tall in him.

Freedom to Straighten Up

Luke 13:10-17 (NRSV)

Introduction: Read or have someone read Luke 13:10-17 NRSV.

This story in Luke takes place in a synagogue on the Sabbath. Although Jesus is teaching, it is his healing of a crippled woman that takes center stage. The woman who appears on the scene serves as a picture of creation and humanity in need of straightening out. Luke articulates the typical Jewish mindset in making her condition connected with Satan. Although this woman is not demon-possessed, Luke’s audience would automatically bring a spiritual dimension to her crippled condition. The ancient Jewish mindset would not have separated all that’s wrong in the world from the influence of evil in the world. Satan and sin are connected to the brokenness of all creation and humanity. Luke’s telling of this story is more than just the healing of one woman. It is Jesus’ proclamation of victory over Satan and sin and the straightening out of all that is crooked and bent.

If the “Speaking of Life” video is played, this is a good place to reference it.

Some theologians in the Middle Ages coined the term “cor curvum in se” meaning “curved in on ourselves” as a description of the fall. C.S. Lewis used the word “bent” to articulate the same thing. Sin essentially is like the crippled state of this woman. We are bent over in on ourselves, navel-gazing and unable to do anything about it.

Created in the image of God, we were designed to be outward focused in sharing life with God and one another. Being created in God’s image, humans were made to be lovers of God and lovers of one another; this is what Jesus taught as the first and greatest commandment. After the fall, humans did not cease being lovers, but being turned in on themselves, they became lovers of themselves. Or as Paul describes, “lovers of themselves, lovers of money… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:2-4). This is the dire situation and distortion that Jesus came to straighten out.

Jesus sees us

Jesus is the only one 1n this narrative who is not curved in on himself. His words and actions are outward focused, seeing the woman and calling her forward. Notice how Jesus didn’t heal her in some impersonal way; he first saw her. When we are turned in on ourselves it’s easy to believe no one sees us, and in our self-absorbed world, we do not see the gaze of others turned our way. Thus, our condition worsens. But Jesus see us and does not turn away. He calls us to himself like he called the crippled woman. His voice cuts through our twisted and gnarled existence and speaks an invitation of love. You may be hearing his voice right now. As Jesus called her over, he wasted no time in healing her. He heals her with his words and his touch.

Jesus reaches out to us

Jesus’ actions in this story reveal to us the nature of the Trinity. Father, Son and Spirit are outward focused. They live in a face-to-face relationship, seeing one another and giving themselves to each other. This is the life we are created to belong to. This is the life Jesus invites us into. As Jesus touches and heals the woman, we see his touch extends out to all creation and humanity—healing and straightening us back to live outwardly in face-to-face relationships. Whatever state of “cor curvum in se” you may find yourself in today, Jesus is calling you to himself. He doesn’t point a finger with harsh words and tell you to straighten up. He proclaims the truth that “you are set free from your ailment.” In his hands we find ourselves “stood up straight.” The woman’s immediate response was praise. Here we get a picture of a woman who has been restored to being a daughter created in the image of God. She was seeing God face-to-face and enjoying him. God does not intend to leave us turned in on ourselves. Our truest joy and wholeness in life is to live in a face-to-face relationship with the Father, through the Son in the Spirit. It is here we rise to the full stature of what it means to be human.

Jesus teaches us

This healing on the Sabbath angers the synagogue ruler. Instead of addressing Jesus, he turns and gives the people a basic do-and-don’t-do sermon. This message is spoken in anger and aims to control. Jesus’ message in contrast is spoken in love and aims to release. This release comes from the proclamation on Jesus’ lips that “you are set free from your infirmity.” Jesus exposes the synagogue ruler’s hypocrisy by stating the practice of untying an ox or donkey on the Sabbath so it can get water. If this untying is permissible for an animal, his argument goes, then how much more is it proper to release a “daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years.” This argument humiliates the synagogue ruler, but the people “were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.”

We find here that the woman was not the only one who was crippled. It is proper to look up to our spiritual leaders, but it is not proper to let them look down on you. Jesus has harsh words for the synagogue ruler; he too needed to be straightened out.

We are not told what happened to the synagogue ruler or the future life of this particular synagogue. But let us conclude with this thought. After this event, we could expect the people of this synagogue, and especially the woman who was healed, to return to the synagogue with an outward focus of praise and worship. This outward focus may in time serve to restore the synagogue ruler. We can’t say for certain, but we can see in this story a picture of all creation and humanity with an end goal of restoration and straightening up to share in the outward focused life of Father, Son and Spirit.

As we participate in that life, we can help one another receive the healing touch of Jesus and be reminded of his proclamation that we “are set free” from our “cor curvum in se” condition. As we receive this good news, we are straightened up to respond in praise. Hallelujah!


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • How does the understanding of “cor curvum in se” inform you view of sin?
  • Have you ever felt like the crippled woman who couldn’t straighten up? Does her experience with Jesus give you hope? Discuss.
  • How has this story informed your understanding of God as Trinity? Do we see God as a self-focused God or as an outgoing God of love? What difference does this make in our daily lives?
  • Why do you think the synagogue ruler was angry for healing on the Sabbath? Are there times we get angry with Jesus when his works of healing interrupt our religious routines?

Sermon for August 18, 2019

Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7 • Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19 • Hebrews 11:29-12:2 • Luke 12:49-56

This week’s theme is Stay Connected to the Vine. The prophet Isaiah reminds Israel—through the example of a vineyard—how God carefully planted and cared for them. He did everything for them, but they rebelled against him, and he had to clear the vineyard. The Psalmist tells a similar story—using a vine as an example—asking God to restore them. Hebrews 11 shares the stories of many who were faithful—who stayed connected to God. These faithful are our “great cloud of witnesses,” reminding us to run with perseverance and to stay focused on Jesus. Luke shares Jesus’ statement that he didn’t come to bring peace—he came to draw people to himself. This would result in much division as people choose their own way. We can interpret the weather, but we fail to see that our problems are the result of not being connected to the vine. The sermon begins with the passage in Isaiah 5, and ends with Hebrews 12.

Stay Connected to the Vine

Introduction: Show some pictures of vineyards.

Vines. Vineyards. Grapes. Wild Grapes. Wine. We could be talking about a beautiful scene in Napa, CA, Tuscany, Italy, Burgundy or Bordeaux, France, Germany, Australia, Israel or numerous other places around the world.

These words, however, are found throughout the Bible. There are approximately 60 verses talking about vineyards, more than 30 mentioning grapes, and more than 200 references to wine. Interestingly, Israel was a land of vineyards. So it’s no surprise that the vine and vineyard are characteristic of this country’s agricultural abundance, and they serve as vivid images for the land itself. Isaiah used the vineyard as a metaphor describing the relationship between God and Israel.

I will sing for the one I love, a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. (Isaiah 5:1)

Illustration: If you’ve ever prepared a garden, share some of the steps. Or ask someone in the congregation who loves to garden, to share the steps in preparing and planting the garden. The point is to show it takes a lot of work and the ground needs a lot of care.

Isaiah is showing God’s love for his vineyard—Israel—and their response. God painstakingly cleared the rocks, turned over the soil, and planted only the best vines. Isaiah is showing the purposeful and powerful way that God prepared a place for his people. In this way the parable describes God’s election of Israel as a nation. As with any vineyard, the vinedresser does all the work with the expectation of a fruitful and bountiful harvest. God wanted the best for Israel. He wanted them to trust him and rely on him. God wants the best for us, too. He will go to great lengths to make it so.

He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. (Isaiah 5:2)

God is also the protector; which Isaiah points out. But something happened; Israel lost their way. They spurned God and went their own way. Isaiah compared the result to bad fruit—wild grapes; the vineyard had lost its value.

Notice then, the prophecy:

Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it. (Isaiah 5:5-6)

Whoa! Is God being vindictive here? That is not his nature, so why this reaction from God? Why make Israel a wasteland? Why command the clouds not to rain on it? Because things can’t continue the way they are. It’s easy to put the focus on God’s reaction, rather than on the reason behind that reaction.

God had done everything for Israel. He brought them out of slavery. He blessed their crops and their livestock. He poured out his love on them and protected them, and they turned their back on it all.

What do you do with plants that don’t produce fruit? You pluck them from the garden, so they don’t rob healthy plants of nutrients. You trim dead limbs off a tree, so the tree becomes healthy. You cut dead branches off a vine so the vine can produce better fruit.

Should God continue to provide protection and blessings to those who now live in contradiction to who he is? What example does this state? You can do anything, and God will still pour out his blessings on you. What lesson does this give to those who don’t yet know God? If God blesses, protects and provides for those who defy him, why bother following him? What message would others be hearing? God’s “reaction” could be referred to as tough love.

Israel rejected the very one who made them a nation. They turned their back on the one who gave them land and livestock. Rather than care for the vineyard God gave them—weeding it, trimming it, pruning the branches—they allowed weeds to overflow and take over the grapes. The result was bad fruit—nothing but useless wild grapes.

All because they didn’t stay attached to the vine. This prophecy was for Israel, and it’s for us today. When we stay attached to the vine, we can experience God’s love, protection and provision. His desire is to hold us up as his beloved, to let the world see what it means when one walks with him—lives in communion with Father, Son, Spirit and each other. This does not mean a charmed life where nothing bad ever happens to us. Rather, it means a life of faith, hope and love even when bad things do happen.

He loves to share the stories of those who stay connected to the vine. Hebrews 11 is filled with stories of the faithful. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses are all mentioned. There are many more; let’s read Hebrews 11:

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:32-38)

Notice something here? God doesn’t promise us life without difficulty. We face challenges, trials, persecution, even death. There was a lot of conflict in the lives of those mentioned here in Isaiah. Some he delivered outright; some were not delivered, but all those who stayed connected to the vine are listed among the faithful.

Let’s continue:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 11:39-12:2)

Jesus is the vine; you are one of the branches on that vine. As long as you stay connected to the vine—not allowing weeds (the world) to choke the life out of you—you will be counted among the faithful.

This world will always have trouble—that’s the way of humanity. But Jesus overcame the world and planted a new vineyard—the kingdom of God. Fix your eyes on him, the perfecter of your faith.

As you go through this week, face every negative story with praise for God’s redemption. Look at every trial as an opportunity to be a light to someone else. Take opportunity to see Jesus moments as you interact with your kids, your grandkids, your fellow employees. Face each day knowing you are connected to the greatest, strongest, most fruit-producing vine that ever was. Fix your eyes on him and share in his joy.

 


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think the imagery of vines and vineyards is used so much in the Bible? (Isaiah 5, Psalm 80, Genesis 49, Jeremiah 2, 5 & 6, Hosea 10, Ezekiel 17, Isaiah 16, Micah 1, Zephaniah 1, Deuteronomy 32, Amos 5, Song of Solomon, Matthew 20 & 21, John 15, Revelation 14.)
  • How do you think the kingdom is like a “vineyard?”
  • What do you think it Jesus means when he said he came to bring division? What does it have to do with staying connected to the vine?
  • What does it look like in your life to “remain” in Jesus?
  • Jesus says he is the “true vine.” Does that mean there are “false vines”?
  • Share a time you felt disconnected from the vine, and how God brought you back.

Sermon for August 11, 2019

Readings: Genesis 15:1-6 • Psalm 33:12-22 • Hebrew 11:1-3 • Luke 12:32-40

This week’s theme is Trust in God’s plan, not our own. Abraham tried to fulfill God’s promises his own way—through Ishmael—but God’s plan was different. Abraham came to believe and was counted righteous. The Psalmist reminds us that God sees it all and has a plan—he is the one who works things out. In Hebrews we are reminded that even when we cannot see, our assurance is that God has things under control. The sermon focuses on Jesus telling his disciples to not fear—we don’t need to have all the answers because we know the One who does.

Do Not Be Afraid

Introduction: Have this passage read just prior to the message.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:32-34 NRSV)

Jesus had been assuring his disciples that God had things under control. Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus told the disciples that if God willingly takes care of birds, they can certainly trust him to take care of them. He tells them to not worry because our Father knows what they need. He follows this up with today’s passage. Notice the passage does not begin with a suggestion, platitude or nice idea but a direct command of “Do not be afraid!”

This may sound naïve and simplistic to us today, as we are accustomed to having our fears stoked and inflamed by the many messages around us. We hear fear-stoked messages in the news, in what we read on social media, and even in the church. We are constantly reminded we have good reason to be afraid, and we better take extreme measures to avoid whatever it is that we fear. Usually those “measures” are packaged as the latest product that will keep us safe, a political stance that needs to be defended, or an ideal that must be protected. Shouldn’t Jesus give us a thick “How To…” book on all the ways to settle our fears? Surely, he can’t just say “Do not be afraid”?But there it stands in the text for today. How do we keep such a command in a world as frightening as ours?

Jesus addresses his disciples by affectionately calling them his “little flock”—which by extension is the church today. Jesus’ command is not grounded on the size or strength of the “little flock,” but is grounded on the reality that the flock belongs to the Father. This is the assurance we have—we know who the Father is, and that he is for us. Why should we fear when we know this truth? The passage reminds us that the Father—whom we belong to—is “pleased to give you the kingdom.” This simple, yet profound statement helps us come to know a few things about the Father that can chase away our fears. Let’s look at three:

The Father is pleased to give.

What does that say to you, “Pleased to give?” It tells us the Father doesn’t give out of a sense of duty, or because of promises he made in the past. Nor is he a begrudging giver who deep down would rather not be bothered by his children. Our Father gives out of the enjoyment of giving. It is his pleasure to give himself to us.

This tells us that God’s heart is a heart that enjoys and relishes giving to his children. Let that sink in. Giving is the desire of his heart.

Illustration: Share a time you gave a gift to someone because you were told to give, or out of a sense of obligation. How was the response? You may want to use an example of giving tithes and offerings out of a sense of duty rather than a spirit of generosity.

Have you ever been forced to give something to someone? You can go through the motions, but your heart is not in it. Usually, the receiver can pick this up—making the giving a less than pleasant experience for the giver and the receiver. Jesus is telling us the Father does not give like that. His gifts come wrapped with his pleasure over us.

One reason we enjoy receiving a gift from someone is because it tells us that person takes pleasure in us. When God gives to his children, it is pleasurable because he is pleased to be our Father. Maybe we can, in a small way, understand God’s pleasure in giving as we also can find joy in giving to others. For the Father that pleasure is never tainted in any way. He is pleased to give.

The Father is a giver by nature.

Our Father is not a contractual God who must be bought or appeased. It is his very nature to give. The Father is not obligated to give to us because of our qualifications—and we can certainly praise him for that. He does not need to be conditioned or coerced into giving. We do not need to fear that any strings are attached to God’s good gifts. He is not a conspiring God who only gives to manipulate us onto some agenda.

Illustration: Share a time you were offered or given a gift with strings attached. You may even use advertising as an example. “Get your free TV… if you purchase this long-term contract. Ask for examples from the members.

Have you ever been given a gift that you knew demanded a reciprocation? Or maybe someone did you a favor, and you knew you would have to return in kind. God doesn’t give like that. He’s not demanding anything in return. This doesn’t mean there’s not an appropriate response to his gifts, but even that response is part of the enjoyment of the gift.

God doesn’t need our response, but we are the better for giving a generous response. We experience the joy of giving. Knowing the Father is a giver in his very being lets us know that we can enjoy his gifts without fear or the need to pay up in the future.

The Father is a generous giver.

He does not hold back or give in small portions. In giving us the kingdom, he has given us everything. Ultimately his giving of the kingdom is the gift of Jesus. Jesus is the kingdom that we have been brought into.

In this gift we see that God has given us the gift of participating in communion with Father, Son and Spirit, and with each other. He has given us everything by giving us his very life through Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This gift of communion with the Father enables us to participate in the kingdom—experiencing joy and peace and hope—and inspires our response of loving him and loving others.

We respond by receiving the gift, not out of fear but out of trust in the perfect love of the Father. Our identity and worth is grounded in our belonging to the Father who loves us with a perfect love casting out all fear.

Verse 33 gives us a picture of what does not belong to the kingdom. If it wears out, it’s not kingdom treasure. If it runs out, it’s not kingdom treasure. If it can be carried out, it’s not kingdom treasure. If it can be snuffed out, it’s not kingdom treasure.

We let temporal things go as we receive the kingdom life we have been given. In doing so our treasure and hearts are aligned to the Father just as the Father’s heart is for his children in whom he treasures.

Have you asked yourself lately where your treasure lies? Do you recognize that your treasure is in Jesus? If so, you don’t need to fear.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • How does knowing the Father is pleased to give generously to his children help us obey Jesus’ command to not be afraid?
  • Share how knowing God is “pleased to give” affects your experience of receiving from him.
  • What are ways we sometimes view God as being not a giver? What are some common misunderstandings of God’s reasons for giving?
  • How do we understand the truth that God is a generous giver in our world of “haves and have nots”?
  • Share a time you tried to take things in your own hands—like Abraham did with Ishmael—only to realize God’s way was much better.
  • Read Hebrews 1:3 and describe faith—in terms of God being a giver—as you would to a new Christian.

Sermon for August 4, 2019

Readings: Hosea 11:1-11 • Psalm 107:1-9, 43 • Colossians 3:1-11 • Luke 12:13-21

This week’s theme is We belong to God. The prophet Hosea reminds Israel that God was always with them—even when they are in captivity or exile. They are his people and he will return them to their homes. Paul reminds believers in Colossae of their true identity. They are in Christ, therefore live in that life—putting off anything that is not Christlike. This is part of the renewal offered to all, regardless of their background. In Luke, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man who thought his identity was in what he had, rather than in God, who is our real treasure. The sermon focuses on Psalm 107, and reminds us that God hears our cries. We are his redeemed and his love for us is steadfast.

Steadfast Love

Introduction: Have Psalm 107 read prior to giving the message.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. (Psalm 107:1-3 NRSV)

When things are going well, it’s easy to sing songs of worship and praise. “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High,” “Everlasting God,” I Could Sing of Your Love Forever,” and many others. These are the times when worship overflows easily and effortlessly from a heart full of gratitude and praise. This happens when we are aware of God’s rescue and redemption. These are the times it is easy to say his steadfast loves endures forever.

But what about the other times—times when we feel we have nothing left to offer? Times when we believe we are on our last rope? Times when we are in the midst of a storm and don’t see a way out?

Bart Millard, who is best known for writing the song “I Can Only Imagine” after his dad died, wrote another song that describes this time of feeling we have nothing left to offer. The song, “Even If” was written on a day when Bart had hit bottom. He and his wife have a son with Diabetes 2 and though there are a number of good days, Bart said, “there are bad days, very bad days, and very, very bad days.” After a “very, very bad day,” the last thing Bart wanted to do was go to work and sing worship songs to others. It was during one of these times that he wrote the song “Even If.”

Here’s what he said about the song:

Even If” is a reminder to people in difficult situations that don’t seem to go away. God is worthy long before any of those circumstances even showed up. This song is a declaration to God that even if He went silent and never said another word, He’s still worthy to be praised and that He’s our greatest hope in the midst of the trial. (Bart Millard, MercyMe)

Suggestion: You may want to play “Even If” with the lyrics. Another good song you may want to play with lyrics is Casting Crown’s “Praise you in this storm.” This would be good to play near the end of the message.

All of us face times when God seems far away, and we feel we have nothing left to offer. We are done. It’s too much. We are tired, or thirsty, or imprisoned—often in a cell of our own making. We can be bound in our own chains through our own choices or caught in the waves of a stormy and turbulent sea.

Even in these times God is faithful in his steadfast love. Sometimes it is difficult to see initially, but when we look back, we can see he was there. Often it is in the dark moments—when we feel the most alone or the most abandoned—that we see his love shine brighter and push through more powerfully to us than ever.

When I cry out, “Where are you, Lord?” I’m reminded of Psalm 107.

Let’s read the first few verses again:

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. (Psalm 107:1-3 NRSV)

This beautiful Psalm depicts people going through the ups and downs of life—times of exaltation and times of hardship. These are hardships not necessarily brought on by us, but simply rough seasons of life and happenstance.

After calling up a gathering of people from all over the place—north, south, east and west (the four corners of the earth)—the Psalmist encourages all to speak out in praise of God who has redeemed them.

Four times in this psalm he refers to those who have cried out in their trouble or distress, and the Lord delivers them.

The four distresses include:

  • Those who are wandering in the desert (verses 4-9).
  • Those who are imprisoned or in bondage (verses 10-16).
  • Those who are suffering from sickness and disease (verses 17-22).
  • Those who are in a storm at sea (verses 23-30).

Let’s take a brief look at each of these distresses:

Wandering in the desert

Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things. (Psalm 107:4-9 NRSV)

Today, this refers to those times you feel lost and you are trying to find your way back home. A good biblical example of this is the prodigal son. There are many modern-day examples—you most likely know some wanderers. Perhaps you have been a prodigal child searching for meaning, longing for acceptance, and desiring to come home. Our current world scene is marked by the cries and pleas of hundreds of different groups, thousands of people, seeking help and homeland, refuge and asylum, but often not finding it. The world is filled with those who aren’t sure where their home is, and/or fear they might not be welcomed.

The Psalmist doesn’t point to the sins of the wanderers, just to their need. Their need inspires them to turn to a merciful God for help. The Psalmist reminds us that Jesus is our home—he welcomes us and fills the longing we sometimes feel; he satisfies when nothing else can.

Imprisoned or in bondage

Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor; they fell down, with no one to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he shatters the doors of bronze, and cuts in two the bars of iron. (Psalm 107:10-16 NRSV)

In this case, the Psalmist does refer to sin that keeps us in bondage. It may also refer to spiritual captivity. Jesus said he came to bring liberty from all forms of bondage. Whether or not you have rebelled against God, those who find themselves in prison or bondage cry out to the Lord in their distress.

The phrase “behind doors of bronze and bars of iron” depicts a place of no escape. This can be literal but is primarily metaphorical. People often talk of sins they just can’t stop, habits they cannot break, things that keep them in a state of spiritual bondage. God hears our lament and says he will bring us out of the darkness and the gloom—releasing us from the shackles and cuffs we believe are keeping us in bondage. Our sins and mistakes may land us in jail, but even there, God is with us. No matter if troubles are the result of sin, choice or circumstance, God stands ready to hear and deliver. For this, we thank the Lord for his steadfast love.

Sickness and disease

Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy. (Psalm 107:17-22 NRSV)

The application for us can apply to illnesses of the body, mind, or heart. Sickness was often thought to be a consequence of one’s sin and misdeeds, and sometimes it is. All sickness is the result of the fall of humanity. Like those afflicted in Jesus’ day, we are to bring all our afflictions to him. He is the healer and the deliverer—he heals the mind and heart as well as the body. For this, we praise God for his steadfast love with songs of joy.

Storms at sea

Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity; they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. (Psalm 107:23-32 NRSV)

The fierce storm in this passage can remind us of the warnings given to us by the Apostle Paul: “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). We face many different kinds of storms throughout our lives, but God controls the storms. His love will endure through any storm we face.

The group Casting Crowns wrote a song called “Praise You in the Storm.” Let me share some of the lyrics:

I was sure by now God you would have reached down
And wiped our tears away,
Stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen
That it’s still raining
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear your whisper through the rain
I’m with you
And as your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
The God who gives and takes away

And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

We can praise God in the wilderness, in bondage, in sickness and in the storm because we know the One we praise – Jesus, the Son of the Father.

Let’s note how Psalm 107 ends and be encouraged by these words, which speak of Jesus and his steadfast love:

As you read this passage, insert the name of Jesus and emphasize it where you see the pronoun.

He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.

He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. And there he lets the hungry live, and they establish a town to live in; they sow fields, and plant vineyards, and get a fruitful yield. By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their cattle decrease.

When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, trouble, and sorrow, he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes; but he raises up the needy out of distress, and makes their families like flocks.

The upright see it and are glad; and all wickedness stops its mouth. Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

Jesus restores, he redeems, he heals, he frees, he delivers. It’s because of his steadfast love.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Share a time you experienced the steadfast love of God.
  • Share a time when you questioned God’s steadfast love.
  • We get the sense in Psalm 107 that God’s love is evident and available in all circumstances. How would you explain this to someone who is questioning God’s love?
  • Read Colossians 3:1-11 and discuss what it means to be in Christ. How do you explain this to someone else? To someone who believes they are defined by something else?

Sermon for July 28, 2019

Readings: Genesis 18:20-21 • Psalm 138:1-8 • Colossians 2:6-10 • Luke 11:1-13

This week’s theme is God knows what he is doing. When Abraham barters with God over Sodom and Gomorrah, God already knows the number of righteous in the city. The Psalmist reminds us that God knows all the troubles we face and already has a plan; for this we can praise him. Paul tells the believers in Colossae to continue to walk (trust) in Christ—he is the head over every power and authority. Luke reminds us that God knows the good gifts to give and we can trust him. This week’s sermon weaves a theme through these passages.

God Knows What He Is Doing

Have you ever wondered why God is delaying taking control? Why Jesus hasn’t returned yet? Do you ask why God seems deaf to your pleas? Perhaps you’ve felt the need to remind God how much he needs to intervene.

There is so much bad news today. Pick up the newspaper or go on the Internet and almost daily you will read news about earthquakes, fires, wars and famine, shootings, grief and misery. With the daily atrocities shouting out to us from the headlines, bad news seems to be the norm for our world. It sometimes makes us feel as if we are living in the most evil time period ever. But knowing the history of this planet, we realize that’s not true.

Evil was introduced into our world from the beginning, and though Satan has been conquered, his influence is still here. As someone once said, the dragon is slain but the tail is still wagging.

As Christians, we know we are not immune to the physical dangers to life and limb in this world. Neither are we immune to spiritual dangers. But here’s the key—God is never surprised by what we face, and he is never unprepared. We can trust that he knows what he is doing. The answer to all the evil we see and deal with is Jesus.

Normally, we strive to just focus on one scripture for the theme of the sermon. Today, however, I want to use passages from the Torah, the Writings, the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul to show a constant theme that God knows what he is doing.

Let’s begin in Genesis 18, with the story of Abraham bartering with God over Sodom and Gomorrah. God has seen the wickedness in the two cities and told Abraham it was time to destroy them.

Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.” So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” (Genesis 18:20-26 NRSV)

I love God’s patience here. He knew there weren’t 50 righteous and he let Abraham continue to barter all the way down to 10.

“Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” (Genesis 18:32 NRSV)

When we think God is not hearing our pleas, think of this story. God already knew the outcome, and he knew what was best for the future. He let Abraham barter with him so Abraham could learn to trust God and believe that God knew what he was doing. We need this reminder.

There are times when we feel it would be better if all the evil around us would be wiped clean, right off this earth. We know God could do that; he’s done it before. Why can’t it all just end? Why can’t Christ return and put a stop to it all?

Christ’s sacrifice defeated Satan, but we are still living in an evil world. Why is Jesus delaying his coming? Perhaps it is because he has a bigger plan; he always does. Our lack of understanding all the details, does not mean God’s plan isn’t the best plan. His plan always works for good. Our responsibility is to pray for God’s will and to accept his timing, not our own. We learned this from Jesus, who prayed, “Not my will, but yours.”

Let’s move to Psalm 138 and focus on the last two verses.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me. The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. (Psalm 138:7-8 NRSV)

We all walk in the midst of trouble. The Psalmist understood this, but he also understood that we are not forsaken when we face trouble. God is not only present, but he is also at work. He is the deliverer and he will fulfill his purpose for us—and that purpose is fulfilled in his steadfast love. This is something we want to believe, but sometimes we get misled by lies. The lies tell us God does not care, that he isn’t concerned about us, that he rules from a distance, that Jesus wasn’t really God, that he can’t really intervene.

It’s not unusual to struggle in faith when we are facing severe trials, many of us do. It’s not something we should be ashamed of. There are a lot of lies about God; there always have been. This is one of the issues facing the believers in Colossae that Paul addressed. Notice what he says in his letter to them:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:6-8 NRSV)

Throughout this chapter, Paul warns against false philosophies, legalism, the worship of angels and asceticism—all heretical influences and all contrary to the teachings of Christ. We face the same influences today—God is not real, Jesus was not God, God is not interested in you, you aren’t good enough for God, you are not forgiven, you need to earn salvation. People are still being captivated by numerous lies and various belief systems that are not of Christ.

Paul reminds us to stay rooted in the pure gospel message: Jesus is the answer. It seems too simple and quaint when you see it on a sign or on a fence post, but that doesn’t negate the truth. He is the answer to all our problems. His life, death and resurrection, his sacrifice, changed everything for us. Paul continues:

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10 NRSV)

Jesus is in charge, over every ruler and authority, physical and spiritual, and we are raised with him, dead to sin and alive in him. We read these encouraging words and we know they are true, but when we view the atrocities going on in our world and suffer our own personal failures, we can be overwhelmed with the here and now, losing sight of the hope of Christ in us.

So how do we remain rooted? How do we continue to live our lives in him? How do we remain established in the faith? Again, we look to Jesus as our example. The one constant in Jesus’ life was prayer.

Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus praying. Sometimes he prayed all night. His disciples must have wondered at this. They had heard that John the Baptist taught his followers how to pray. They wanted to know how to pray powerfully as well. This brings us to our last scripture reference, in Luke. (I’m going to switch to the King James due to familiarity with the Lord’s prayer.)

And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. (Luke 1:1-4 KJV)

Later in church history another line was added: “For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”

But Jesus didn’t stop with those few words, as profound as they are. He continued to address the unspoken questions about prayer. Does God hear? Does he answer? Does he care? Can we trust him?

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” (Luke 11:5-8 NRSV)

Some translators feel the Greek word translated persistence would be better translated boldness. Their argument: It’s not that if you just keep asking long enough, God will finally answer your prayers. Many scriptures show God as eager to hear and answer prayers. Let’s read the next verses:

So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. (Luke 11:9-13 NRSV)

God knows what he is doing. He knows what good gifts to give you, and when. Jesus is telling us, yes, pray when you are in trouble or when you need to experience God’s forgiveness, or when you need to forgive others. Pray when you are tempted and feeling weak. But always pray for his will to be done; his will is good.

Let’s face it, sometimes it is difficult to pray for God’s will to be done and not your own. There is fear involved. What if I don’t like God’s will? What if it means more trouble, more pain, more confusion? Under some circumstances, praying for God’s will is a tough prayer to pray and really mean it. But that’s where our hope lies—in God and his will for us, and his will for this evil world. He does know what is best for us—both in the short term and in the long term—far better than we could ever know for ourselves. He knows how and when to give good gifts, and he already gave us the greatest gift—his Son.

Many times in life there is only one place we can go to have hope for the future. And that hope is a person. Jesus is the hope of this world. He’s the one we can go to when there seems no way out of the troubles we face.

Christ’s way of hope is the way of knowing who is in charge of this world, the way of anticipation toward what the future holds for us. Jesus gave us wonderful gifts of grace and faith so we could face life’s upheavals bravely, with courage and hope. When we are at our weakest, great power lies in our hope in Christ.

So, next morning when you turn on the TV or look at your phone or newspaper, stop, take a deep breath, and do not lose sight of that hope. God really does know what he is doing—Jesus really is the answer.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Some people read Genesis 18 and believe Abraham was being disrespectful for bartering with God. What do you feel about this? Have you ever bartered with God? How did he respond to you?
  • What are some of the things you see that make you wonder if Jesus is delaying his return? Explain how this sermon helped you see things in a different light.
  • Share a time you thought your troubles were overbearing and how God delivered you.
  • What lies do you hear about God? What lies do you hear others saying and/or believing about God?
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus is the head of every ruler and authority?
  • What is the difference between persistence and boldness when it comes to prayer? Are you persistent or bold in your prayers?
  • Luke tells us God knows how to give gifts; what gifts has God given you that surprised you?