Sin Happens – So Does Forgiveness

Matthew 18:15-20
“If a believer does something wrong, go, confront him when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have won back that believer. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you so that every accusation may be verified by two or three witnesses. If he ignores these witnesses, tell it to the community of believers. If he also ignores the community, deal with him as you would a heathen or a tax collector. I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you imprison, God will imprison. And whatever you set free, God will set free. “I can guarantee again that if two of you agree on anything here on earth, my Father in heaven will accept it. Where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them.”

Sin Happens

So Does Forgiveness

“Tell your brother that you are sorry!”
“But, Dad!”
“Tell him you are sorry!”
“Daddy, you don’t understand … “
“Tell him you are sorry!”
“I’ll say it – but I won’t mean it!”
Sound familiar?Which one are you in this little scenario?The one who doesn’t want to say, “Sorry”?The father who is looking to make peace between the “combatants” so that he can forgive them both?Maybe you are the third one in the story, the one who was wronged. Did you want to be forgiven if it meant you had to forgive also? Maybe, like me, you’ve been all three at different times.
What are we to do when a Christian does something – well – unchristian?
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Literally “Forgive our sins in the same way we forgive those who sin against us.” I’ll admit that I’ve choked on those words a couple of times in my life. I’ve started to say them – and then realized that there was someone I had not yet forgiven.
Why couldn’t we pray, “Forgive our sins even though we can’t/won’t/haven’t forgiven them”? Forgiveness is unnatural. We are all at the center of our own universe. Anything, that doesn’t go the way we want it, is a bad thing. Anybody who disagrees with us is a moron. People who try to stop us are bad people.
In Matthew 18:21 & 22 Peter asks Jesus just how many times hehas to forgive his brother or sister who sins against him. And then offers up an answer for himself that seemed extremely generous. “Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
In our gospel reading for today, Jesus lays out a plan of what to do if a Christian acts in an unchristian way toward you. Once you have tried every step, the last thing is to treat them as an unbeliever and a tax collecter. Now two things are important to understand here: One, this is not talking about the sin of non-believers; and two, being treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector is the LAST option in the list.
Let’s look at what Luke recorded in chapter 7: “Jesus said to his disciples:
“There will always be something that causes people to sin. But anyone who causes them to sin is in for trouble. A person who causes even one of my little followers to sin would be better off thrown into the ocean with a heavy stone tied around their neck. So be careful what you do.”
Okay, so here is what I understand this to mean to us.
Sin Happens!Make sure you don’t.Don’t lead others into sin!If you do sin, Get right with God – Quick!Do your best to lead sinners back to God.
In Luke chapter 17:3-4 it says, “Correct any followers of mine who sin, and forgive the ones who say they are sorry Even if one of them mistreats you seven times in one day and says, “I am sorry,” you should still forgive that person.”
Forgive, Forgive, Forgive! That is what the good news is all about. Right?
Jesus came to forgive us and expects us to forgive each other. Man! That is so hard sometimes! At least we have a plan to follow. Jesus gives instructions what to do if one of his followers sins against another, “Go and point out what was wrong.” Don’t wait. Don’t let it fester and grow. Go now! But do it in private, just between the two of you. Don’t go to a third party and start gossiping about the problem. I know, that it is easier to complain than it is to forgive. However, that is NOT the Christian way to handle it.
If that person who wronged you listens, you have won back a follower.
Woo Hoo! Yea!
But we know that system doesn’t always work. Right? So here is what to do if that one refuses to listen, take along one or two others. No! They’re not your “muscle”.
The Scriptures teach that every complaint must be proven true by two or more witnesses. Plus where two or more believers are gathered, God is there also.
But what If the follower still refuses to listen to them? Report the matter to the church.
Do you notice the progression here? We start off one-to-one, then bring in a few more, now we bring in the whole body of believers.
Anyone who refuses to listen to the church must be treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector.
That sounds bad – doesn’t it So … that’s it? We give up on them? No! There DOES come a time when we have to do MORE than forgive, not LESS. We need to treat our brother or sister like an unbeliever or a tax collector.
How did Jesus treat unbelievers and tax collectors?
He actively sought them out. He went into their homes. He ate with them. He healed them. He prayed with and for them. He befriended them. He sought to bring them into the Kingdom of God.
Can we do any less?
Chances are that sometime in the last few minutes, while we talked about forgiveness, we have thought of someone whom we have not forgiven. Or maybe we’ve thought of someone who hasn’t forgiven us.
We need to pray for that relationship because our relationship with each other can interfere with having a strong relationship with God. Then we need to actively seek to mend it. Forgive as you have been forgiven.
Amen!
©Thomas E Williams 2020

Originally published Monday, August 15, 2011

Judgment or Grace?

Judgment or Grace?

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind–just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you–so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Message Judgment or Grace? Thomas E. Williams
The sky is falling! The sky is falling! You remember Chicken Little. An acorn fell on his head and he paniced and started declaring that the sky was falling. Before long he had Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey all convinced that he was right and everyone was running for shelter.
How many Chicken Littles have come and gone? I don’t know for sure. Hundreds or thousands I’d guess. I did a quick research on the World Wide Web and found the following:
  1. In the 1530s, Anabaptists assumed control of the German town ofMunster and hailed it as a New Jerusalem awaiting the return of Christ. Jan Bockelson declared himself the “Messiah of the last days,” took multiple wives, issued coins that prophesied the coming apocalypse and in general made life hell for everyone in the city.
  2. 666 is described as the “mark of the beast” in the Bible’s Book of Revelation. So it was no surprise that Europeans worried as the year 1666 approached.
  3. William Miller began to preach about the world’s end, saying Jesus Christ would return for the long-awaited Second Coming and that Earth would be engulfed in fire sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. When that end didn’t come, Miller changed the date to Oct. 22. When Oct. 23 rolled around, his loyal followers explained it away yet again.
  4. The Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society, founder, Charles Taze Russell, had previously predicted Christ’s invisible return in 1874, followed by anticipation of his Second Coming in 1914.
  5. Pentecostal pastor William Branham claimed he met with seven angels who revealed to him the meaning of the seven seals from the Book of Revelation, leading him to predict that Jesus would return to Earth in 1977.
  6. Harold Camping’s prediction that the world will end Saturday, May 21, 2011, is not his first such prediction. In 1992, the evangelist published a book called 1994?, which proclaimed that sometime in mid-September 1994, Christ would return and the world would end. Camping based his calculations on numbers and dates found in the Bible and, at the time, said that he was “99.9% certain” that his math was correct. But the world did not end in 1994. Nor did it end on March 31, 1995 — another date Camping provided when September 1994 passed without incident. “I’m like the boy who cried wolf again and again and the wolf didn’t come,” Camping told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1995. “This doesn’t bother me in the slightest.”
  7. Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, which was the best-selling nonfiction book of the 1970s, predicted that the world would end sometime before Dec. 31, 1988. He cited a host of world events — nuclear war, the communist threat and the restoration of Israel as reasons the end times were upon mankind. His later books, though less specific, suggested that believers not plan on being on Earth past the 1980s — then the 1990s and, of course, the 2000s.
  8. Edgar Whisenant published a book in 1988 called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988, which sold some 4.5 million copies. Whisenant once famously said, “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong.” When 1989 rolled around, a discredited Whisenant published another book, saying the Rapture would occur that year instead. It did not sell as well, nor did later titles that predicted the world would end in 1993 and again in 1994.
  9. Y2K. For months before the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, analysts speculated that entire computer networks would crash, causing widespread dysfunction for a global population that had become irreversibly dependent on computers
  10. David Koresh led his Branch Davidian sect to its doom in a compound near Waco, Texas, in 1993. How did he do that? He convinced his followers that he was Christ and that they should hole up at what was called the Mount Carmel Center to prepare for the end of the world.
  11. A New Age belief cites 2012 as the year humans will undergo a physical and spiritual transformation, while some people predict that sometime that year, Earth will collide with a black hole or a planet named Nibiru. But perhaps the most popular belief is attributed (falsely, many scholars argue) to the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar from the ancient Mayan civilization. Interpretations suggest that the fourth world, in which we live now, will end on Dec. 21, 2012.
When will the world end? I don’t know. But it seems that all I have to do to build a following of Henny Pennys, Ducky Luckys, Goosey Looseys, and Turkey Lurkeys is use some unsound science or theology and shout it with enough conviction.
I’d want to set the date just far enough into the future so that word had time to spread and more people could ‘tune in’ to my message. And, hey, I could get lucky and the world would end when I predicted and no body would be around to laugh at me.
There is so much interest in end of the world prophesies that all manner of books, movies and TV shows have been written about it. And if you really want to see how wide spread the belief in the end of the world is, go to the web. There are not only prophets making predictions, there are people preparing for it. There is a whole sub culture of people who call themselves “Preppers”. They are survivalist types who want to be ready for the ‘coming chaos’. There are sites where you can buy packages that contain a years worth of freeze dried food, water, first aid kits, ammunition, and seeds so that you can plant your own post-apocalyptic gardens.
Now understand that I am not belittling them, I believe in a certain amount of preparedness. I live in a Recreational Vehicle, a fifth-wheel trailer. My wife and I have an emergency to-go bag with some clothes, our meds, bottles of water and food bars. We change the contents as the seasons change. There have been times when the weather reports were indicating that it would be unsafe in our RV. We took the bag and sought shelter in a safer building. If our home was destroyed by the storm we had a few necessities with us. But is it really necessary or possible to prepare for the end of the world?
Our scripture readings both speak of the Day of the Lord, the day that Jesus comes in the clouds. The sun and moon will be darkened. Stars will fall from the sky and heaven and earth will pass away on that day!
That sounds like the end of the world doesn’t it? Can we be prepared for it? Yes, and Jesus tells us what to do.
Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
And why are we to watch? Paul tells the Corinthians and by extension us: Because in every way we have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind–just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among us–so that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen us to the end, so that we may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As Christians we should be prepared by keeping ourselves right with God. We ARE SAVED. That is done! Now we need to keep our will in line with God’s will. We need to be about doing what God intends for every believer to be doing. And that is spreading the Good News that Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.
As Christian we should be SEEKING the end of THIS world and the full realization of the Kingdom ofGod. There is nothing to fear in this world’s end, for it is a broken world. Only by its passing can the new earth and the new heaven be revealed.
So what if the stars fall and the sun and the moon are darkened? We will have the light of Christ as a physical presence in the world. I will paraphrase the message that the angels gave the shepherds at Jesus’ birth, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today there has returned for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
So often I’ve heard the phrase “The Coming Judgement” said with fear and trepidation. I say to you, we Christians have already been judged and found innocent by the grace given as a gift of God through Christ Jesus. What we have to look forward to at the end of the world is the handing out of our rewards. It is grace not judgement for us at the worlds end. So rejoice, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Amen
Bible readings are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible

©2019 Thomas E Williams

Out Originally published Tuesday, November 29, 2011

“Problems in the Vineyard”

Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing a lovesong to my beloved about his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it up, removed its stones, planted it with the choicest vines, built a watchtower in it, and made a winepress in it. Then he waited for it to produce good grapes, but it produced only sour, wild grapes. Now then, you inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah, judge between me and my vineyard! What more could have been done for my vineyard than what I have already done for it? When I waited for it to produce good grapes, why did it produce only sour, wild grapes? Now then, let me tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will tear away its hedge so that it can be devoured and tear down its wall so that it can be trampled. I will make it a wasteland. It will never be pruned or hoed. Thorns and weeds will grow in it, and I will command the clouds not to rain on it. The vineyard of the LORD of Armies is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the garden of his delight. He hoped for justice but saw only slaughter, for righteousness but heard only cries of distress.

Matthew 21:33-46
Listen to another illustration. A landowner planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, made a winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to vineyard workers and went on a trip. “When the grapes were getting ripe, he sent his servants to the workers to collect his share of the produce. The workers took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned a third to death. So the landowner sent more servants. But the workers treated them the same way. “Finally, he sent his son to them. He thought, ‘They will respect my son.’ “When the workers saw his son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they grabbed him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. “Now, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those workers?” They answered, “He will destroy those evil people. Then he will lease the vineyard to other workers who will give him his share of the produce when it is ready.” Jesus asked them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord is responsible for this, and it is amazing for us to see’? That is why I can guarantee that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce what God wants. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken. If the stone falls on anyone, it will crush that person.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his illustrations, they knew that he was talking about them. They wanted to arrest him but were afraid of the crowds, who thought he was a prophet.

“Problems in the Vineyard”

The reading in Isaiah and the reading in Matthew start out a lot alike. A vineyard has been established. A wall has been built around it. Rocks, shrubs and weeds have been removed. A watchtower has been built so that the fruit can be protected from the wild beasts and thieves. A winepress has been built in anticipation of the harvest to come.
Just preparing the land has most likely taken the first year in the life of this vineyard. And finally the vineyard is planted with grape vines. Each plant placed by hand into the hole and the soil carefully replaced around it, being sure not to leave air pockets. Usually a little dirt is added, a little water is added, a little dirt is added a little water is added, a little dirt etc. until the hole is filled.
Now comes the careful watering. Until the root system is established the ground must be kept moist but not wet. Too much water will drown the young plants. Gradually the dry stems that were planted will begin to show signs of green, signs of growth.
Now the next four years is spent tending the vines, pruning, supporting and training them to the trellis. Plus tending the ground, keeping it loose enough for the water to soak in. And keeping the weeds and varmints out goes on for a long time before it gets to the harvest stage.
Sometimes when we read these illustrations we fail to realize the amount of time the landowner (God) has put into this vineyard (us).
Now in the Isaiah story, the good grapes have gone wild. The expected harvest will not take place. Imagine all that work and nothing to show for it! No wonder the owner wants to withdraw from this piece of property and let it go back to its uncultivated nature.
God had planted his vineyard. He nurtured it and trained it. He had built a vineyard / a nation. He settled them in the perfect spot for them to grow. He had given ten simple laws for them to follow, though they themselves added many more from their interpretation of His laws. God had done all that he could do to insure its survival … and yet it had gone wild. God was not pleased.
In the Matthew reading Jesus is reinterpreting the Isaiah story and saying that the landowner after doing all he could to get the vineyard established had turned the day to day care to some tenants. The harvest is done and now it is time to collect his share of the produce. Being still in a far country, he sent his servants to the workers to collect his share of the produce as agreed upon.
The tenants, in their greed, decided that THEY had done all the work for this crop (which was only THEIR point of view because they were discounting all the time, money and effort the owner had put into it first). But in their greed they chose not to give the owner his share.
Remember that we are really talking about God and – well – us! How often have we denied that it ALL belongs to God? We are only stewards. And yet, we look around us and say, “Look what I have done! Or See what I have made!”
My three-year-old great granddaughter is at that stage where she is defining boundaries. She’ll look at me as I’m getting a glass of water and say, “That is not YOUR glass, gran’pa. That’s Daddy’s glass.” Or “This is not MY backpack. This is Sissy’s!” Well, this is not MY world. It is God’s, along with everything else in existence. But praise God He let’s me use it.
Remember what you had in your pocket the day you were born? That’s right – nothing!And that is all that belongs to you – nothing. By God’s grace we have what we have and He only asks for a small token to be returned to His service.
Now some of you are maybe starting to think I’m talking about tithing. Well I am, a little, but that’s not all. Yes, as far back as the Garden of Eden a sacrifice, was given to God.
That reminds me of a cartoon I saw of a family sitting in a restaurant. The son turns to his dad and says, “Why does the waitress get 20% and God only gets 10? Let us not begrudge God’s his 10% but be thankful that He lets us have the 90%.
Okay, so now that I’ve talked about tithing let’s get down to what God REALLY wants from us. He wants our love. He wants us to honor him by doing that which he has set before us. He wants us to care for His creation like good stewards.
You see, He has a job for each of us. All it takes is for us to love Him enough – to trust Him enough. And then we need to give God the thanks and the glory that are rightfully his.
Back to the illustration: The workers took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned a third to death.
Instead of seeking revenge or retribution for these deaths, the owner is still only trying to receive his portion of the harvest as is his right. So the landowner sent more servants. But the workers treated them the same way.
Stepping out of the metaphor and into reality for a moment, let’s look at who these servants were. Well these were the judges, prophets and righteous people that God sent to his people to get them back in alignment with his purpose. In this day and age we would recognize them as being Pastors, Sunday school teachers, Christian musicians, Christian authors as well as our family and friends who offer us sound advice. Time to ask ourselves how well we have received these servants of God. I doubt that any in this congregation have actually beaten and killed God’s messengers. However, have we received them with the love and with justice as God requires?
Then Jesus says, “Finally, he sent his son to them. He thought, ‘They will respect my son.’ “When the workers saw his son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him and get his inheritance.’
Now we know that approach is pure foolishness. Killing the son in no way puts them in line to inherit anything but the father’s wrath! But greed and other sins can cloud our judgments and make us do really stupid things.
So the tenants grabbed the son, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
Jesus was of course talking about himself here! He knew what these rebellious people were planning for him. But Jesus never backed down. Instead he asks these leaders, “Now, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those workers?”
Jesus is checking: do they really not understand right and wrong; or do they know right from wrong and just choose wrong?
They answered, “He will destroy those evil people. Then he will lease the vineyard to other workers who will give him his share of the produce when it is ready.”
By their own tongues they were condemning themselves but had not yet realized it. They had not seen themselves as the “evil tenants”. They didn’t realize that the “vineyard” was about to be taken away from them and given to those people that these leaders looked down their noses at.
Okay reality check! Who do we turn our noses up at? Are we SURE that we are so much more deserving of the vineyard than they are?
Then Jesus asked them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord is responsible for this, and it is amazing for us to see’? That is why I can guarantee that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce what God wants.
Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken. If the stone falls on anyone, it will crush that person.”

Okay, these guys might not have got the point the first time around but, when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard this illustration, they finally knew that he was talking about them. This angered them and they wanted to arrest him but were afraid of the crowds, who thought he was a prophet.

Again, we have to be VERY careful with casting judgment on these religious people. They were, for the most part, good people. However, they were people so locked into their customs and mind sets that they could not accept what Jesus was telling them even when he explained it to them.
We need to be careful that we are not looking at the splinter in their eye and not aware of the log in our own eye. For we too, can fall victim to the delusion that we are always right because we keep the letter of the law but do not always filter it through the love of Christ as he taught us and command us to do.

Part of our communion liturgy says, “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.” So, during this time of communion let us each examine our own lives to see if we have the righteousness of God within us or if it is our own self righteousness … which can blind us to the true purpose that God has for us.

God bless

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All content (except quotations) ©2011Thomas E. Williams

©2011 Thomas E Williams

Originally posted Saturday, October 1, 2011

“Why the Transfiguration?”

Mark 9:2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the son of Man had risen from the dead.”

“Why the Transfiguration?”

Today’s message is less a ‘sermon’ than a lesson. Not a sermon because I make no exhortation for change. I offer this as a study to gain a, perhaps new, understand of the scripture. And I’ll leave ‘change’ up to you.

Okay, here is the question that comes to my mind when I read this story of the transfiguration, “What is the purpose of the transfiguration?”

You see, I believe that everything in this book is there for a reason. This is not just a book a dry facts it is a book of living truths. So, let’s see what truths we can find hear and how do they become ‘living’ in us.

It is a very short section of scripture and pretty straight forward.

  1. Jesus and three disciples go up the hill.

  2. Jesus is changed to a ‘glorified state’ and visits with Moses and Elijah.

  3. Disciples are confused and afraid and want to build shelters for them.

  4. God, the Father, exalts Jesus as His beloved Son

  5. Jesus tells the disciples to tell no one.

There are so many ‘whys’ here.

  1. Why take some disciples but not all?

  2. Why go up on a mountain?

  3. Why was Jesus appearance changed?

  4. Why were Moses and Elijah there?

  5. Why were the disciples able to recognize them?

  6. Why were the disciples afraid?

  7. Why did the disciples want to build shelters?

  8. Why did God speak to the disciples rather than Jesus?

  9. Why were they commanded to tell no one?

  10. What does this mean to me and to you?

When I run into so many questions, I try to see how the scripture fits into the narrative before and after the event. Interestingly, the seventeenth chapter begins with the words, “Six days later …” Six days after what? I’ll get to that in a minute. However, I want to go back further in the scriptures than the happenings of that last week.

Mark records in his gospel a great number of healings and those were not supernatural events for Jesus, that they were indeed natural for him. These events were not called miracles in the gospels. These events were called signs because they pointed the way to the Lordship and the divinity of Christ.

This signs were often attacked by the Scribes, Sadducees and Pharisees. These religious leaders saw the signs and dismissed them as blasphemous and works of the devil.

For His part, Jesus has systematically demonstrated that the Pharisees had been teaching tradition as if it were God’s law. The Scribes ignored the teachings of the prophets. The Sadducees did not believe in the afterlife.

In every confrontation with those religious scholars of the day, Jesus repeatedly claimed his divine authority to seek the lost and forgive the sinner. But his message was not getting through to very many of them. Here are a couple of examples: Mark 2:3-10 “Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man,11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

And later, after Jesus had called Levi to become a disciple, Mark 2:15-17 records: While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:23-28 tells us, “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Jesus reminds them of stories of David and of priests who have broken the Sabbath and “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

The other scene that Mark presents over and over is the inability of the disciples to fully understand what Jesus was teaching them about himself and the Kingdom of God.

The examples that I just gave you were said in the presence of His disciples and yet even they keep missing the point that Jesus has come to save and forgive sin. “Oh you of little faith… wasn’t directed at His detractors but at His own followers. I can almost hear the exasperation in His voice here, in Mark 4:35-41. “That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

I have wondered why he didn’t just calm their fears instead of calming the wind and the sea. … Maybe because that was the easier thing to do. The natural forces of wind and sea were obedient without questioning … unlike the disciples.

Later, in Mark 8:27-33, when He asks His followers, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The disciples say, “John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Now here comes the famous question, when Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” We know that Peter answers, “You are the Messiah.”

Here it appears that Jesus is finally seeing that they are beginning to understand. So once again He tells them that He is bound for Jerusalem where he must die.

Peter, because he can not accept that Jesus will be taken away by death, argues with him to which Jesus replies, Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Read your Bible and you will see that, though he taught the crowds in parables, Jesus spoke openly and plainly about his need to give up his life for the salvation of all. Here, Jesus, seeing that the disciples were still not ready to accept this truth about His mission, tells them to tell no one that He is the messiah. I believe it is because His own disciples still don’t grasp the nature of Jesus as messiah. He does not want them to spread the wrong story.

And now, six days later, He takes his strongest inner circle of disciples and leads them to a dramatic experience, the transfiguration.

And who does he choose for this experience? He chooses Peter, James and John; the three most outspoken of the disciples. All three were known to confront Jesus with statements and questions.

These three disciples were ‘blurters’. You know the type; the ones whose thoughts come out of there mouths before they ever reach their brains. As leaders amongst the disciples, these were the ones who NEEDED the experience of the transformation the most.

And look what happened … Jesus was changed, his face shone like the sun and his clothes were transformed to an unearthly brightness … a whiteness no bleach could cause. This was a preview of Christ the King in His heavenly glory. This was the Messiah that was promised … not the Messiah that was expected. Not a military leader and a man of war. This was the divine Son of God, Beloved of the Father. Not a mere messenger but He was the MESSAGE. The Word of God incarnate.

And there, on that mountain top, with His disciples as witnesses, appeared Moses and Elijah. I use the term witnesses in the legal sense here. Remember that by Jewish law an event was judged true or false by the witness of two or more. The testimony of one disciple could have been disregarded. However, the word of three witnesses had to be accepted as true. Now here were Moses, giver of the Law, the very personification of the Law and Elijah, the prophet of prophets who had ridden to heaven in a fiery chariot, standing there with Jesus.

Do you see the see the symbolism here? The Law and the Prophets, the cornerstone of all Jewish beliefs, are standing there with Christ and talking with Him.

Peter got it. For him everything was complete right there … and there he wanted to stay. Let’s build houses and stay right here. Okay, maybe Peter still didn’t get it. Because then God, the Father, in the form of a glowing cloud sets them straight, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

“Listen to him! Draw a big red circle around His words and highlight it in yellow. Underscore His words multiple times. Listen to him! Pay attention. This is not Moses giving you a law and this is not Elijah prophesying, this is MY SON! His time with you is about over, so listen up!” Okay, I have expanded what was actually recorded but that is the feeling of power and importance that I get from that simple line, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Okay, we started this session with a lot of questions. Let’s revisit them and see what understand we have gained.

  • Why take some disciples but not all?

I believe that it was because Jesus realized that these three needed it the most. They were the natural leaders in the group of disciples. If the three of them could truly understand the importance of this event, they would convince the rest.

  • Why go up on a mountain?

To get away from the crowds and to be by themselves. This was a ‘by invitation only’ event.

  • Why was Jesus appearance changed?

It was a revelation of the heavenly Christ, the divine beloved Son of God. This is Christ as He was and as He will be.

  • Why were Moses and Elijah there?

They were recognizable symbols of the Jewish Law and Prophets and two of the most respected historical figures to the disciples. Remember what I said about the testimony of two or more? Here we have Moses, Elijah and God the Father all testifying about Jesus.

  • Why were the disciples able to recognize them?

I still don’t know. This goes on my list of things to ask when I get to heaven … if they are still important.

  • Why were the disciples afraid?

They were sinful men suddenly in the presence of the Almighty God. And their realization of their sin stood out in fierce contrast to His holiness. Ask yourself what your reaction would be.

  • Why did the disciples want to build shelters?

It may have been a sign of honor or it was a desire to extend the experience. Remember what Jesus said to Peter earlier? “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” He clearly is still thinking about human concerns and not God’s concerns.

  • Why did God speak to the disciples rather than Jesus?

It was necessary for the disciples to be deep-down convinced that Jesus was the beloved Son of God and that the words that Jesus spoke were the words of the Father. These men were going to be tested soon and their faith had to be rock solid all the way to their cores.

  • Why were they commanded to tell no one?

It was not yet time for them to share their testimony with the world. And people have to come to their own understand of Jesus as God’s Son.

  • What does this mean to me?

Well, it means that those ‘red words’ in my Bible, the words spoken by Jesus, carry far more weight than words spoken by anyone else in the Bible …. Or anywhere else. He was not an earthly ruler who gave us laws to follow. He was not some philosopher spouting words of wisdom. He was not a prophet giving mysterious and cloudy predictions of the future. He was and is the Son, the Beloved, of the Heavenly Father. And the words He speaks are not to be ignored.

  • What does this mean to you?

Well, that one you’ll have to answer for yourself.

Here ends the lesson.

God bless

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All content (except quotations) ©2012 Thomas E. Williams

Originally posted Friday, February 3, 2012

Quoted from the New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible

Jesus went to eat

Luke 14:1, 7-14

On a day of worship Jesus went to eat at the home of a prominent Pharisee. The guests were watching Jesus very closely.

Then Jesus noticed how the guests always chose the places of honor. So he used this illustration when he spoke to them: “When someone invites you to a wedding, don’t take the place of honor. Maybe someone more important than you was invited. Then your host would say to you, ‘Give this person your place.’ Embarrassed, you would have to take the place of least honor. So when you’re invited, take the place of least honor. Then, when your host comes, he will tell you, ‘Friend, move to a more honorable place.’ Then all the other guests will see how you are honored. Those who honor themselves will be humbled, but people who humble themselves will be honored.”

Then he told the man who had invited him, “When you invite people for lunch or dinner, don’t invite only your friends, family, other relatives, or rich neighbors. Otherwise, they will return the favor. Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the handicapped, the lame, and the blind. Then you will be blessed because they don’t have any way to pay you back. You will be paid back when those who have God’s approval come back to life.”

Jesus went to eat

What an amazing social calendar our Lord had while on Earth. We often find him dining with unlikely company. With the tax collector Levi and his friends, with Mary and Martha two single sisters, and we have several examples of him dining with Pharisees, who often bore him ill-will. And that is the case today.

Allow me to set the scene a little bit. First off it is the Sabbath so we know it’s not going to be a large Feast with many delicacies, most likely it will be bread, cold meats and some fruit. The tables will be arranged in a U shape with the host at the far left and his most honored guest at the far right. The guests were placed in order according to seniority, or according to the rank they held. The host and guests were seated on the outside of the U. Servants would serve from the inside. This being the Sabbath, there add wui tut yaa would have been no servants.

In ancient Israel they used to sit on mats at a low table cross-legged, much like the Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian countries. But in the hundred years or so of the Roman occupation they have tended to adopt the Roman style of eating which is sitting at a low table, but reclining on cushions. They would recline to the left and feed themselves with their right hand. No eating utensils, just hands. Each set of two people would dip from the same bowl of food.

Often the host would provide water or oil to refresh the face and hair. It was common to clean your hands before eating. This was accomplished without washcloths but with slices of course bread. They would rub their hands upon the bread and let the crumbs fall to the floor for the dogs.

Once all the guests had arrived, the host would close the door and the meal would begin.

I found the following Commentary by Emerson B. Powery (Ph.D., Duke University) is a Professor of Biblical Studies at Messiah College and I’m using it with only minor editing.

Jesus loved the gatherings around meals; at least, that’s what we are led to believe in the Gospel of Luke. This was one of the primary distinctions between him and his ascetic mentor John the Baptist. He doesn’t even deny the charge that he enjoyed more than his share of wine at many meals (Luke 7:33-34

John the Baptizer has come neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘There’s a demon in him!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! He’s a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’). In our story, Jesus is at a banquet and tells a “parable” about the meal setting, which is followed up by another story about another banquet. He can’t get enough of what happens at meals.

On another note, it should not be surprising that Jesus shares a meal with some of the Pharisees. Once we remove the negative impressions we have of this formidable group and recognize their influence on many people during the first century, we should not be surprised by this encounter. Just a few verses earlier some Pharisees actually assisted Jesus by informing him of Herod’s plans to locate Jesus (cf. 13:31). This suggests a more neutral relationship between “the Pharisees” and Jesus in Luke’s Gospel.

By chapter 14, Luke has established a pattern of Jesus’ freer activity on the Sabbath. These Pharisees, not surprisingly, are “watching him closely” (14:1); perhaps it is due to what they have heard about Jesus’ Sabbath practices earlier. Whenever this verb is used — “watching” — the religious leaders do not do this simply out of curiosity.

They are trying to trap Jesus, either in some activity like healing on the Sabbath or something inappropriate he might say. But, here, after Jesus heals someone on the Sabbath, there is no little to no reaction to Jesus’ activity. Luke wishes to draw our attention elsewhere in this short story. He would like us to think about “meals” in first century life.

In the Gospel of Luke, meals, in particular, provide central settings for Jesus’ mission. And, the language of food, in general, serves as a basis for Jesus’ teaching. (cf. Luke 11:5-6

Jesus said to his disciples, “Suppose one of you has a friend. Suppose you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, let me borrow three loaves of bread. A friend of mine on a trip has dropped in on me, and I don’t have anything to serve him.’

Eating is a sign of life (Luke 8:52-55

Everyone was crying and showing how sad they were. Jesus said, “Don’t cry! She’s not dead. She’s just sleeping.” They laughed at him because they knew she was dead. But Jesus took her hand and called out, “Child, get up!” She came back to life and got up at once. He ordered her parents to give her something to eat.) 17:27-28; 24:43) and celebration (Luke 15:23

Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let’s celebrate with a feast.). But it also symbolizes the harsh realities for the enslaved (Luke 17:7-9

Suppose someone has a servant who is plowing fields or watching sheep. Does he tell his servant when he comes from the field, ‘Have something to eat’? No. Instead, he tells his servant, ‘Get dinner ready for me! After you serve me my dinner, you can eat yours.’ He doesn’t thank the servant for following orders.). Food has religious connotations as well (cf. 6:1-4; 7:33; 14:15; 22:14-20); Jesus “blessed” it (Luke 9:16

Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and blessed the food. He broke the loaves apart and kept giving them to the disciples to give to the crowd.30) and prayed for it daily (Luke 11:3

Give us our bread day by day.)

Even though Jesus shared several meals with Pharisees (cf. 7:36), they often complained about his choice of (other) table-fellowship companions (sinners) and about how his associates secured food on the Sabbath (picking grain as they walked through a field) Unlike his possible mentor (John the Baptist), Jesus loved food and his disciples followed suit. Just as he expects to care for the physical needs of others, he expects that others will provide for his disciples when they minister among them.

Indeed, he assumes that friends will share it, which is a natural outgrowth of first-century Jewish culture. Theologically, he believes that God will provide for the basics of life, so he teaches and acts accordingly.

In Luke 14, Jesus is less interested in the actual food than in the composition of the banquet. So, he tells a story about meals and honor. It’s an unusual “parable” in light of its clear references. His story emphasizes two components of the banquet setting: (1) the selection of “seats” (honor?); and, (2) the invitation list. In an honor and shame culture, avoiding shame is of the utmost importance. This is not simply embarrassment. Public shame may have tangible implications for the shamed. A family’s bartering practices or marriage proposals can be negatively affected by a public shaming, if the shame is significant enough.

On the opposite end, public honor — determined, in this story, by the host — may come to those who express public humility. Jesus expresses expectations for hosts. His words are a challenge to the honor system embedded in first-century culture. To secure one’s place in this system, it was appropriate to invite friends, family, and rich neighbors. Reciprocal requests would ensue, as the public acknowledgement of an honorable person may bring its own rewards.

But Jesus calls into question this type of caste system, imagining instead hosts who choose to associate with people who are “poor, crippled, lame, and blind” as their new network. The problem for hosts, however, as Jesus explicitly recognizes, is that no honor is forthcoming in return. Rather, it’s an investment in the future.

So what?

One does not live by bread alone,” as Jesus argues in the temptation scene when he was tempted by the devil for 40 days. During those days Jesus ate nothing, so when they were over, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “Scripture says, ‘A person cannot live on bread alone.‘”

Nor is Jesus only concerned about what happens at meals. His teaching is about the way we treat others, especially those among us who unable to “pay us back.” In a modern democratic society in which public political rhetoric emphasizes that all are (created) equal, it is easy to miss the emphasis of Jesus’ teaching in his own status-oriented, honor-shame and hierarchical space.

Yet, we have our ways of distinguishing one from another, in order to structure our contemporary world. Oftentimes, these distinctions among us hinder us from true fellowship with one another. Jesus’ story is a reminder to us about the company we keep.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”

God bless

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©2019 Thomas E Williams with the exception of quoted made material

Originally preached September 01, 2019

“How Blest Are We?”

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Luke 1:46b-55

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

“How Blest Are We?”

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed,” Mary sings in a psalm in today’s scripture reading. But when we look at the facts of Mary’s life, we see troubles and pain and turmoil. She is pregnant out of wedlock, which is punishable by being stoned to death.

The Roman’s who have conquered and are occupying the Jewish nation require a census for taxation purposes. This forces Joseph and Mary to travel toBethlehem while she is about due to deliver a baby.

Then she gets to Bethlehem and finds they must spend the night in a stable. And in a stable she gives birth.

So far this doesn’t seem to fit our modern concept of be blessed, does it?

And it gets worse. When the king hears of the baby’s birth he sends soldiers to find and kill all the children in the area. She has to uproot her family and go with Joseph and Jesus to a country that certainly is not a “friend to Jews”, Egypt.

Take your choice of people in the old or new testaments and you’ll find that everyone that was blessed was beset with troubles.

Abraham was blessed and the blessing required him to leave his home and security and go to an unknown land. And if we look closely at that blessing we see that it is THROUGH him that all the world is to be blessed.

Kind David, after he is anointed as Israel’s true king by the prophet Samuel, has to run and hide because Saul wants to kill him.

Moses, it is said, was a prophet like no other because he talked face to face with God. However, there is not much in his life that could match up with our concept of being blessed. He escaped being killed at birth only by being set adrift in the Nile (think about Nilecrocodiles which still on occasion actively hunt people). As a young man, he has to flee to the desert. Then God blesses him and sends him back to Egypt to have a showdown with one of the most powerful and ruthless men in the world. Even when he has won that battle, he has to lead a bunch of surly, cantankerous, whiners to a Promised Land that they refused to enter. And then has to put up with them for another forty years. And in the end, he doesn’t even get to enter the Promised Land himself.

John the Baptist was blessed of God and lived in the wilderness eating locust and honey before he became a homeless, traveling preacher. And for his faithfulness, he was beheaded by Herod as a present for his daughter.

Jesus, the very Son of God, did not live a life of ease and free of troubles. You may have realized when we read the Bible passage from Isaiah that this is the passage that Jesus read in the synagogue and then told the crowd that He was the person that Isaiah was prophesying about. As a result those good, religious people took him out of the synagogue to a high hill and tried to throw him off of the cliff. That is the way His ministry started. And we know, that in the end, they did succeed in killing Him.

All of this tells us that our concept of blessings is way to narrow. When we think of blessings, we think of things like our health, our family, our jobs, our friends, our homes, or our wealth. Amen?

Now listen, I’m not saying that those things that I’ve listed aren’t blessings. What I’m saying is that those blessings are given to us so that we can BE a blessing.

If God has opened the windows of heaven and poured out for us an overflowing blessing, you can be assured that it wasn’t given to us to hoard. We know that, right?

We remember, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal. ”

Count your blessings. Count them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

I may never sing that song with the same innocence that I’ve sung it in the past. Amen?

About a dozen years ago a new understanding of blessings came to me when I was reading and thinking about Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

I had always loved this verse because it gave me comfort that God was on my side. Anybody else love that verse and claim it as your own?

However, one day I saw it with new eyes. I saw that it said “all things work for the good”. It didn’t say that all things were going to be good. It wasn’t a promise of “A cloud of pink ice cream where every star is a candy bar and the moon is a marshmallow dream.”

It said that God would take everything and everyone that I encountered in life and make it good for me. Good for me. You know, like this medicine is good for me. The foul smelling, nasty tasting medicine that makes me want to vomit, is good for me. You know what I’m talking about here. Amen?

I came to understand that I don’t have to like it, for it to be good for me. We don’t have to like it for it to be good for us. We don’t have to like it for it to be a blessing for us.

What we have to do is turn it over to God and he will make it good “for” us. Do you see?

Now we have lived long enough that we can look back on our life and see many things that came into our life that were far from pleasant. And yet because of that unpleasant experience, our life was ‘shifted’ onto a better path. We have been blessed.

And like all those who came before us, we are to BE blessings.

We are to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

  • to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn, to build up the ancient ruins, to raise up the former devastations, to repair the ruined cities, and the devastations of many generations.

And we do that by taking whatever comes into our life and turning it over to God. We need to give it as an offering of our will to Him. And He in turn gives us a peace that the world will never know and can not take away.

I have a joy, joy, joy, joy down it my heart. Down in my heart to stay. Amen.

Amen.

©2011 Thomas E Williams

Originally published Friday, December 9, 2011

Who Would You Follow Into The Flood?

Joshua 3:7-17
Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to honor you in front of all the people of Israel. I will do this to let them know that I am with you just as I was with Moses. Order the priests who carry the ark of the promise, ‘When you step into the water of the Jordan River, stand there.'” So Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here, and listen to the words of the LORD your God.” Joshua continued, “This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly force the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites out of your way. Watch the ark of the promise of the Lord of the whole earth as it goes ahead of you into the Jordan River. Choose one man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. The priests who carry the ark of the LORD, the Lord of the whole earth, will stand in the water of the Jordan. Then the water flowing from upstream will stop and stand up like a dam.” So they broke camp to cross the Jordan River. The priests who carried the ark of the promise went ahead of the people. (The Jordan overflows all its banks during the harvest season.) When the priests who were carrying the ark came to the edge of the Jordan River and set foot in the water, the water stopped flowing from upstream. The water rose up like a dam as far away as the city of Adam near Zarethan. The water flowing down toward the Sea of the Plains (the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. Then the people crossed from the east side of the Jordan River directly opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the LORD’s promise stood firmly on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan until the whole nation of Israel had crossed the Jordan River on dry ground.

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
You remember, brothers and sisters, our work and what we did to earn a living. We worked night and day so that we could bring you the Good News of God without being a burden to any of you. You and God are witnesses of how pure, honest, and blameless we were in our dealings with you believers. You know very well that we treated each of you the way a father treats his children. We comforted you and encouraged you. Yet, we insisted that you should live in a way that proves you belong to the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory. Here is another reason why we never stop thanking God: When you received God’s word from us, you realized it wasn’t the word of humans. Instead, you accepted it for what it really is–the word of God. This word is at work in you believers.

Matthew 23:1-12
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees teach with Moses’ authority. So be careful to do everything they tell you. But don’t follow their example, because they don’t practice what they preach. They make loads that are hard to carry and lay them on the shoulders of the people. However, they are not willing to lift a finger to move them. “They do everything to attract people’s attention. They make their headbands large and the tassels on their shawls long. They love the place of honor at dinners and the front seats in synagogues. They love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have people call them Rabbi. But don’t make others call you Rabbi, because you have only one teacher, and you are all followers. And don’t call anyone on earth your father, because you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. Don’t make others call you a leader, because you have only one leader, the Messiah. The person who is greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever honors himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be honored.

I like a church where people read the Bible. People who read the Bible for themselves are less likely to be lead astray. Be wary of people who build their lessons on a verse here and a verse there. Read before and after the verse. See if the whole section, chapter, or book supports the lesson that they are teaching.
Now, I can promise you that I am not trying to lead you . However, if I was the kind of person who would lead you astray, I would be the kind of person who would lie and say, “I can promise you that I am not trying to lead you astray.”
So, how do we choose the spiritual leader that we follow? And I am not talking about how the conference appoints a pastor. I’m talking about how WE chose to whom we listen.
Have you ever played “Follow the Leader”? One person leads and everyone else follows and does exactly what the leader does. Anyone who doesn’t do the same as the leader is out of the game. The game goes on until only the leader and one other person is still in the game. Of course the leader in the game tries to make it as hard to follow as possible. It is the challenge that makes it fun. In life we want a leader who wants to make it possible for us to follow even when the times are challenging.
Some leaders are charismatic. There is just something about their personality that makes people want to follow them. By all accounts, Jesus Christ was certainly a charismatic leader. People were drawn to Him by the strength of His character. However, the cult leader Jim Jones was also said to be very charismatic. So charisma is not the answer.
Maybe we choose to follow a particular leader because they lead us where we want to go. That certainly sounds like a leader we could follow. Amen? I’ll remind you of some Biblical examples. Moses lead a mob of ex slaves that complained and back peddled for forty years in the dessert – all because they did not like where he lead them.
In the New Testament, Jesus consistently took his disciples to places they did not want to go. He took them to the houses of sinners and tax collectors. He took them among the lepers and He took them into Jerusalem when the authorities were making plans to kill Jesus and punish His disciples. No, we should not choose a leader because he leads us where we want to go.
Perhaps we choose the leader we follow because he can quote scriptures to back up his leadings. Recall, if you will, that Satan also quotes scripture. Between the Old and the New Testaments there are so many passage that can be pulled out of context and made to sound like something they were never meant to say. No, even Bible knowledge is not the test of a true spiritual leader.
The Hebrew Bible lesson takes place just after the 30 days of mourning following the death of Moses. Moses had trained Joshua to take his place. Moses had told the people’s leaders that Joshua was going to lead them into the Promised Land. However, this was the moment when Joshua became a leader because “Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to honor you in front of all the people of Israel. I will do this to let them know that I am with you just as I was with Moses.”
Following God’s order, Joshua ordered the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant, “When you step into the water of the Jordan River stand there.”
Now remember that the Jordan was at flood stage. We, here, have been through floods in the past few years. We know the power of the flood. We have heard the warnings to not drive on flooded streets because even a few inches of fast moving water can sweep a car down into deeper waters.
Now, put yourself in the place of the priests who have just been told to walk into the flood and stand there. How willing are you to step into that water? How much do you trust the man who just told you to stand in the flood?
Now Joshua calls to the people of Israel and tells them, “Come here, and listen to the words of the Lord your God. This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly force your enemies out of your way. Watch the ark of the Lord of the whole earth as it goes ahead of you into the Jordan. The water flowing from upstream will stop and stand up like a dam.”
In the New Testament reading Paul give thanks that the people of Thessalonica have been good followers of his example. He commends them for being good followers of the gospel of Christ. What kind of leader was Paul? Well, he says that he took a job to earn a living so that he could minister to them with burdening them financially. He says that God is his witness that he was pure, honest, and blameless in his dealings with the believers. And that he treated each of them the way a father treats his children. He comforted them and encouraged them. Yet, he insisted that they should live in a way that proves they belong to the God who calls them into his kingdom and glory.
In our gospel reading we find Jesus warning people to follow the teachings of but not the examples of the religious leaders. These leaders continued to teach the laws of Moses but they had enforced burdens on the people that the leaders were exempt from.
The reading begins, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,”
Then – Jesus said. Then – indicates something had happened before. So, let’s set what He is about to say into the time frame of what has gone before.
Jesus has ridden into herJerimeritJerusalem on the back of a donkey colt.
· The people have hailed him as the Messiah.
· He has cleansed the temple and overturned the tables of the temple merchants.
· He has been challenged by the religious leaders and has won every debate.
· He has just finally silenced the Pharisees by asking them questions about the Messiah that they could not answer.
Then – Jesus turns to the crowds and to his disciples and says, “The scribes and the Pharisees teach with Moses’ authority. So be careful to do everything they tell you.”
Jesus recognized that, as persons in positions of authority, the scribes and Pharisees were to be respected. It is much like what I was told in the military. When you are saluting and officer, you are saluting the rank – not the man. So, these teachers were teaching with Moses’ authority and are to be followed because of what they teach – not because of who they are.
Jesus even said, “But don’t follow their example, because they don’t practice what they preach.”
These people obviously knew the truth because they had been teaching it. Jesus says that what they teach is true. However, they do not live it. Even worse, He says that they intentionally make it as hard as possible for the people to follow the rules they create. And yet do not subject themselves to the same set of rules.
Jesus states their motivation is to “do everything to attract people’s attention. They make their headbands large and the tassels on their shawls long. They love the place of honor at dinners and the front seats in synagogues. They love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have people call them Rabbi.” These, so called, leaders want all of the attention, trappings, and power of their positions but are unwilling to fulfill the true purpose of their positions.
Then Jesus gives the people a further warning, “Don’t make others call you Rabbi, because you have only one teacher, and you are all followers” When compared to the true teacher, every other person falls short. We must all be students of the true teacher.
Then Jesus tells us who the true head of our household is to be. “Don’t call anyone on earth your father, because you have only one Father, and he is in heaven.
Since we all have one Father that makes us family. That means that there is no ‘us verses them’ because we are all ‘us’. That perspective should eliminate a whole lot of conflict when we finally embrace it.
As to being a leader, He says, “Don’t make others call you a leader, because you have only one leader, the Messiah.” If you want to truly be a leader and not just be called “Leader” here is what you must do. “The person who is greatest among you will be your servant.” And remember, “Whoever honors himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be honored.”
So, when we are looking for leadership, these are the attributes for which we should be looking. We need a leader strong enough to lead us where we do not want to go. We want a leader that truly has our best interests a heart. We should look for a leader who is both gentle and firm as a father. We need a leader who is not just trying to line his own pockets or increase his own power. We need a leader who has the heart of a servant. And most of all we really need a leader who is a sincere follower of God.
And let us not forget that we need to do our part by keeping ourselves in tune with the word of God so that we can recognize and embrace the true leaders in our lives.
So let me ask you, who do you trust to lead you through the flood?

©2011 Thomas E Williams

Originally published on Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tale of Two Mountains

Hebrews 12:18-29 You have not come to something that you can feel, to a blazing fire, to darkness, to gloom, to a storm, to a trumpet’s blast, and to a voice. When your ancestors heard that voice, they begged not to hear it say another word. They couldn’t obey the command that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that even Moses said he was trembling and afraid.

Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to tens of thousands of angels joyfully gathered together and to the assembly of God’s firstborn children (whose names are written in heaven). You have come to a judge (the God of all people) and to the spirits of people who have God’s approval and have gained eternal life. You have come to Jesus, who brings the new promise from God, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better message than Abel’s. Be careful that you do not refuse to listen when God speaks. Your ancestors didn’t escape when they refused to listen to God, who warned them on earth. We certainly won’t escape if we turn away from God, who warns us from heaven. When God spoke to your ancestors, his voice shook the earth. But now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the sky.” The words once more show clearly that God will change what he has made. These are the things that can be shaken. Then only the things that cannot be shaken will remain. Therefore, we must be thankful that we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Because we are thankful, we must serve God with fear and awe in a way that pleases him. After all, our God is a destructive fire.

Message: Tale of Two Mountains

Subtitled: the New Promise from God

The author of the “Letter to the Hebrews”(probably Paul the Hebrew of Hebrews as he said in Philippians 3:5) encourages the Jewish Christians to … keep on keeping on … in their Christian path even through tough times. Because rough times will come. He could well have quoted what Jesus said in Matthew 6:34

So don’t ever worry about tomorrow. After all, tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Paul encouraged them not to turn back to Judaism, to the old familiar path.

Come on, you all know how hard it is to break a habit. And once the habit is broken, how difficult it can be to not slide back into it. When push comes to shove we tend to fall back into those old patterns.

Remember that the first Christians were Jews and at the beginning was considered to be another Jewish sect just as the Sadducees and Pharisees. However, in the thirty-plus years since Jesus’s death, things have changed. The new Christians were no longer allowed to worship in the synagogues. And what Jesus had predicted in Luke 12:51-53 Came to pass as he said, “Do you think I came to bring peace to earth? No! I can guarantee that I came to bring nothing but division. From now on a family of five will be divided. Three will be divided against two and two against three. A father will be against his son and a son against his father. A mother will be against her daughter and a daughter against her mother. A mother-in-law will be against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” These are some of the things that were tempting these Christians to return to Judaism to the old familiar ways.

The author showed them how much the Christ centered church differs from that of the Jewish congregation. He uses the imagery of two mountains, Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.

He said something along the lines of, “Y’all remember what happened to yer kinfolk at Sinai?” (What? You didn’t know Paul/Saul of Tarsus was from – southern – Turkey?) Okay, so he continued, “They’d been on the run since escapin’ from Egypt. Anyways, they got to this here big ol’ rocky hill called Sinai, didja know that means hatred? Right off that don’t sound at all friendly.

So, here they were comin’ up to this mountain an’ this James Earl Jones voice boomed out, “Keep your hands off my mountain!”

No, seriously, God said if’n they touch it they’d die.

If’n their animals touch it they’d die.

Let me make myself clear y’all. You know that scene in the Wizard of Oz with the booming voice and smoke and fire? That is just a cheap knock off.

‘Cause God showed ’em smoke an’ fire like you ain’t never seen.

That whole mountain was ablaze and full of gloom and dark with a hurricane force wind. It was one scary ol’ place.

They hear’d an ol’ horn blow and they heard God speak. His voice scared the stuffin’ right outta them. They pleaded for him not to speak to them like that again.

No wonder they were terrified! Even Moses was terrified after seeing what happened on the mountain, he said, “I’m shakin’ like a leaf because I am scared to death!”

Remember, this is the God of their salvation from slavery in Egypt.

And yet they stood at the base of that mountain with pee-down-your-leg fear of the awesome display and sounds of God’s manifestations at Sinai.

Now the Apostle emphasizes the contrast between Sinai and Mount Zion and demonstrates how much Zion resembles the state of Christ’s church in heaven.

Using an expanded version of

Hebrews 12:22-23, listen to what the points that the author had to make about Zion.

  1. “It is as though they had come to the presence of God in heaven.

  2. That it is like what their ancestors did when they came to worship God on Zion Hill, in Jerusalem, in the city of the all-powerful God.

  3. They are coming to where there are countless angels, together, who are rejoicing as they have gathered together.

  4. They have joined all the believers who have privileges like firstborn sons, whose names God has written down in heaven.

  5. They have come to God, who will judge everyone.

  6. They have come to where the spirits of God’s people are, people who lived righteously before they died, and who now have been made perfect in heaven.”

The epistle author built the image of this new congregation as being the spiritual Mount Zion on which will rest the New heavenly Jerusalem.

Okay time for a little history and geography lesson. Zion, in the Old Testament was the easternmost of the two hills of ancient Jerusalem. … It appears to be a pre-Israelite Canaanite name of the hill upon which Jerusalem was built; the name “mountain of Zion” is common. In biblical usage, however, “Mount Zion” often means the city rather than the hill itself. Thank you, britannica.com

This was the hill on which God set his king the Messiah. Listen to the words of the prophet Zechariah (9:9-11)

Rejoice with all your heart, people of Zion! Shout in triumph, people of Jerusalem! Look! Your King is coming to you: He is righteous and victorious. He is humble and rides on a donkey, on a colt, a young pack animal. He will make sure there are no chariots in Ephraim or war horses in Jerusalem. There will be no battle bows. He will announce peace to the nations. He will rule from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth. I will set your captives free from the waterless pit because of the blood that sealed my promise to you.”

Does that disruption fit anyone you know of? About 500 years before Jesus was born, Zechariah reported God’s words to his people so that they would recognize him when he came in three flesh.

Now, in coming to the new mount Zion, Christianity, believers come into heavenly places, and into a heavenly society.

These two mountains show the contrast between the old covenant and the new covenants. The old is solid, unyeilding, and with all of the “Thou shalt nots!” More than a little scary. The new is loving, full of light, life, and grace. In the old testament the Temple was where people came to God. In the new testament, Christ comes where two or three are gathered in his name. In the old, people were told what NOT to do. Don’t murder, cheat, or steal et cetra. In the new, we are told WHAT to do. Serve each other, love each other, and forgive each other.

Now, I’ll admit that I’m a little like these early Jewish Christians who wanted to continue living by the law of Moses. I like rules. I like to know where the boundaries are.

But, though God issued laws with which to train his children, those laws were never designed to earn salvation. For example, God said to Moses, “I will be kind to anyone I want to. I will be merciful to anyone I want to.” Therefore, God’s choice does not depend on a person’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. (Romans 9:15-16)
Though I am glad God is a God of Justice I’m extremely thankful that he is God of mercy and grace because of the blood of Jesus that sealed God’s promise to us. Just as the prophet Zechariah said.

During Holy Communion, we come to Jesus to partake of his blood of the new covenant between God and man. As we accept what Jesus accomplished when his blood which flowed when he died on the cross. His doing that made it possible for God to forgive us. It was his doing not ours.

Paul warned the Jewish Christians and I now tell you to beware that you do not refuse to listen to God who is speaking to you. The Israelite people did not escape God punishing them when they refused to listen as Moses warned them here on earth. So neither will we escape God punishing us, if we reject him when he warns us from heaven.

Paul reminds his listeners that the Earth shook when God spoke to the people at Mount Sinai. And that God has promised that He will shake the Earth again one more time and he will shake the sky also.

Paul records, “The words once more show clearly that God will change what he has made. These are the things that can be shaken. Then only the things that cannot be shaken will remain.

Understand that everything that is physical will be shaken. Only the spiritual realm of heaven will remain unshaken.

In the Revelation of John 21:10-11, he wrote, “He carried me by his power away to a large, high mountain. He showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.” This is the new Jerusalem for the new mount Zion.

I’m reminded of the words of this hymn.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing,

Call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet,

Sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,

Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Thank the Lord for His streams of mercy. May we all be fixed on Zion, the Mount of His redeeming love. Amen.

©2019 Thomas E Williams

Originally published August 25, 2019

We Are Touching Lives Through Christ By Reaching Out, Bringing In, Lifting Up, Sending Forth.

Before you read this sermon, understand that parts of it are specific to my home congregation. However the message goes beyond that group. It speaks to all who call themselves Christians.

Ezekiel 34:1-17
The LORD spoke his word to me. He said, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy to these shepherds. Tell them, ‘This is what the Almighty LORD says: How horrible it will be for the shepherds of Israel who have been taking care of only themselves. Shouldn’t shepherds take care of the sheep? You eat the best parts of the sheep, dress in the wool, and butcher the finest sheep. Yet, you don’t take care of the sheep. You have not strengthened those that were weak, healed those that were sick, or bandaged those that were injured. You have not brought back those that strayed away or looked for those that were lost. You have ruled them harshly and violently. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd. When they were scattered, they became food for every wild animal. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered throughout the whole earth. No one searched or looked for them. “‘So, you shepherds, listen to the word of the LORD. As I live, declares the Almighty LORD, because there is no shepherd, my sheep have become prey. My sheep have become food for every wild animal. My shepherds haven’t searched for my sheep. They have taken care of only themselves, not my sheep. So, you shepherds, listen to the word of the LORD. This is what the Almighty LORD says: I am against the shepherds. I will demand that they hand over my sheep. I won’t let them take care of my sheep anymore, and they will no longer take care of only themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, and my sheep will no longer be their food. “‘This is what the Almighty LORD says: I will search for my sheep myself, and I will look after them. As a shepherd looks after his flock when he is with his scattered sheep, so I will look after my sheep. I will rescue them on a cloudy and gloomy day from every place where they have been scattered. I will bring them out from the nations, gather them from the countries, and bring them to their own land. I will take care of them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited places of the land. I will feed them in good pasture, and they will graze on the mountains of Israel. They will rest on the good land where they graze, and they will feed on the best pastures in the mountains of Israel. I will take care of my sheep and lead them to rest, declares the Almighty LORD. I will look for those that are lost, bring back those that have strayed away, bandage those that are injured, and strengthen those that are sick. I will destroy those that are fat and strong. I will take care of my sheep fairly. “‘As for you, my sheep, this is what the Almighty LORD says: I will judge disputes between one sheep and another, between rams and male goats.

Matthew 25:31-46
When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. The people of every nation will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right but the goats on his left. “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, my Father has blessed you! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me into your home. I needed clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you took care of me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then the people who have God’s approval will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you as a stranger and take you into our homes or see you in need of clothes and give you something to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “The king will answer them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.’ “Then the king will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me! God has cursed you! Go into everlasting fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels! I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me into your homes. I needed clothes, and you didn’t give me anything to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t take care of me.’ “They, too, will ask, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or as a stranger or in need of clothes or sick or in prison and didn’t help you?’ “He will answer them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you failed to do for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do for me.’ “These people will go away into eternal punishment, but those with God’s approval will go into eternal life.”

We Are Touching Lives Through Christ By Reaching Out, Bringing In, Lifting Up, Sending Forth.

When studying the scriptures we need to ask questions as we read. We need to ask; who, what, when, where, why, and how. We also need to insert ourselves into the narrative. It is often helpful to ‘try on’ the roles of the different characters in the story. We can gain new insights by ‘seeing through another’s eyes’. And finally, we need to ask, what does this mean to ME?
We are going to first examine our reading from Ezekiel. Let’s take a look at what is going on here. First of all who are the players in this story?

Well, God is God. Ezekiel is the man God has called on to be his messenger. That’s pretty straight forward. The sheep are lost. It seems clear that these are people that are lost, they are without God. But we’ve got shepherds, who are they?

The shepherds are the leaders. Remember that in that day and age the religious and political leaders were the same people. There was no division of church and state. So these leaders were supposedly men of God, his spokespersons to the people but they are falling down on the job.

Now we have the WHO let us examine the what. The WHAT is the scattering, neglect and destruction of the sheep, the lost people.
WHEN is the next question that we ask. Ezekiel may have had a specific time in mind for this prophesy, but when we examine it we’ll see that the story is timeless. It could and has taken place over and over.
Where did these events take place? Again, as in the question of when, the WHERE is not important to the events of the story because it is a story about universal events.
Moving on to the next question, WHY, we find that there are many WHYS here: greed, laziness, self centeredness, self willed and on and on.
The HOW of the story seems to indicate a general neglect of the sheep by the shepherds. When it is not neglect it is abuse.
Okay, so God says, Hey Zek! Take this message to the leaders of your nation. Tell them that I am really NOT happy. And when I’m not happy, ‘aint nobody happy. Do you blockheadds really think that I can’t see what is going on?
You are down there getting fat off of My people. You take the blessings that I have given them to pad your own nest eggs. You are all dressed up in your fancy clothes , living in your mansions, driving expensive cars – er, camels, and taking the best of everything for yourselves.
Man, it sure points out how little things have changed doesn’t it? If you watch the TV or read the paper you can tell that these guys would feel right at home in our world today.
They were supposed to be leaders. Now, you can’t be a leader if you aren’t moving and nobody is following! And according to this parable, the sheep – that is the people – were lost. They were scattered over the face of the earth and nobody was searching for them.
Not one of these, supposedly good, Godly people was getting out of their comfort zone and …. Oh oh! I just got one of those spiritual slaps up side the head! I was feeling fairly comfortable with my place in this parable. I was seeing myself as a sheep – were you?
But look here, we are not the ‘lost’. We have been redeemed. We are sitting here in church because we have found THE WAY. Oh, we’re not perfect and we may temporarily get turned around but I really can’t see casting us in the role of the sheep.
But wait a minute, Tom, if they are the lost sheep, who are we? Well, we sure aren’t God. And unless God has your cellphone number, I don’t think we are Ezekiel either.
Man, I hate to admit this, but I think that we may be the shepherds that ol’ Zeke here is talkin’ to. I was feeling so smug and comfortable a minute ago. Now, not so much.
The shepherds were the religious leaders and yet they were not doing what shepherds do. Shepherds do not sit at home while the sheep are in the field. Shepherds feed the sheep. They lead them to where the water is good. They protected them from the wild beasts. They bring them safely home. That is what shepherds are SUPPOSED to do.
Ol’ Ezekiel’s shepherds did not protect, did not heal the injured, did not lead, they did not even do the most basic of care by feeding the sheep. And as a result, the Almighty Lord says: I am against the shepherds. I will demand that they hand over my sheep. I won’t let them take care of my sheep anymore, and they will no longer take care of only themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, and my sheep will no longer be their food.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus lays out the job description for being the right kind of shepherd.
for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Now, this congregation does many good things to take care of the sheep. We do protect through various programs such as the blanket bucks,

We feed through programs like the food pantry, the monthly meals at Trinity, the Heifer Project and even the suppers provided through UP kids.
We clothe the naked through our contributions to the Ingathering and yes through the rummage sales.
We visit, pray for and send cards and flowers to the sick
We welcome the stranger that enters our doors.
However, I’m wondering if we doing all that we can to go find the lost sheep that are scattered across the face of the earth. Our church’s mission statement is. We Are Touching Lives Through Christ By Reaching Out, Bringing In, Lifting Up, Sending Forth

Answer this for yourselves, are we really reaching out? Are we seeking the lost? I know that if the lost find their way into our fold, we will welcome them, we will protect them, we will feed them, and many other things that a good shepherd would do. But let’s face this, a good shepherd does not just open the gate to the shephold and hope the sheep find their way to. He actively seeks the sheep and herds them into safety.
I have to ask this, and understand that I’m not just asking YOU, I’m asking US, are we actively inviting people in? And if we are, are they the lost sheep? Or we inviting the saved to come and join us?
I ask that because … well, here is a personal admission: We just recently got some new neighbors who will be spending the winter in an RV near ours. Ella asked them if they had found a church home yet and we invited them to come to church with us.
Were we being shepherds? Not really, these people are already Believers. We were not inviting sheep. We were inviting more shepherds.
If we are to live up to our mission statement, we need to go find the sheep and bring them in. We need to be seeking the lost. Just as Jesus did. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10. Jesus was fulfilling what Ezekiel had prophesied, “For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” We, as Christ’s hands and feet on earth are under an obligation to continue this work.
Remember the words of the Great Commandment in Matthew 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything that I have command you.”
This was not a suggestion to sit in our comfortable sanctuary and wait for the lost to wander in. This is a command to go and find them.
We each have to ask ourselves how we have obeyed this command. When we stand before God will He say, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’?

God bless

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All content (except quotations) ©2011Thomas E. Williams

Judgment or Grace?

Mark 13:24-37
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind–just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you–so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Judgment or Grace?

(The followingwas originally published November 29, 2011)

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! You remember Chicken Little. An acorn fell on his head and he paniced and started declaring that the sky was falling. Before long he had Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey all convinced that he was right and everyone was running for shelter.
How many Chicken Littles have come and gone? I don’t know for sure. Hundreds or thousands I’d guess. I did a quick research on the World Wide Web and found the following:
  1. In the 1530s, Anabaptists assumed control of the German town of. Munster and hailed it as a New Jerusalem awaiting the return of Christ. Jan Bockelson declared himself the “Messiah of the last days,” took multiple wives, issued coins that prophesied the coming apocalypse and in general made life hell for everyone in the city.
  2. 666 is described as the “mark of the beast” in the Bible’s Book of Revelation. So it was no surprise that Europeans worried as the year 1666 approached.
  3. William Miller began to preach about the world’s end, saying Jesus Christ would return for the long-awaited Second Coming and that Earth would be engulfed in fire sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. When that end didn’t come, Miller changed the date to Oct. 22. When Oct. 23 rolled around, his loyal followers explained it away yet again.
  4. The Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society, founder, Charles Taze Russell, had previously predicted Christ’s invisible return in 1874, followed by anticipation of his Second Coming in 1914.
  5. Pentecostal pastor William Branham claimed he met with seven angels who revealed to him the meaning of the seven seals from the Book of Revelation, leading him to predict that Jesus would return to Earth in 1977.
  6. Harold Camping’s prediction that the world will end Saturday, May 21, 2011, is not his first such prediction. In 1992, the evangelist published a book called 1994?, which proclaimed that sometime in mid-September 1994, Christ would return and the world would end. Camping based his calculations on numbers and dates found in the Bible and, at the time, said that he was “99.9% certain” that his math was correct. But the world did not end in 1994. Nor did it end on March 31, 1995 — another date Camping provided when September 1994 passed without incident. “I’m like the boy who cried wolf again and again and the wolf didn’t come,” Camping told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1995. “This doesn’t bother me in the slightest.”
  7. Hal Lindsey’s ” Late Great Planet Earth”, which was the best-selling nonfiction book of the 1970s, predicted that the world would end sometime before Dec. 31, 1988. He cited a host of world events — nuclear war, the communist threat and the restoration of Israel— as reasons the end times were upon mankind. His later books, though less specific, suggested that believers not plan on being on Earth past the 1980s — then the 1990s and, of course, the 2000s.
  8. Edgar Whisenant published a book in 1988 called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988, which sold some 4.5 million copies. Whisenant once famously said, “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong.” When 1989 rolled around, a discredited Whisenant published another book, saying the Rapture would occur that year instead. It did not sell as well, nor did later titles that predicted the world would end in 1993 and again in 1994.
  9. Y2K. For months before the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, analysts speculated that entire computer networks would crash, causing widespread dysfunction for a global population that had become irreversibly dependent on computers
  10. David Koresh led his Branch Davidian sect to its doom in a compound near Waco, Texas, in 1993. How did he do that? He convinced his followers that he was Christ and that they should hole up at what was called the Mount Carmel Center to prepare for the end of the world.
  11. A New Age belief cites 2012 as the year humans will undergo a physical and spiritual transformation, while some people predict that sometime that year, Earth will collide with a black hole or a planet named Nibiru. But perhaps the most popular belief is attributed (falsely, many scholars argue) to the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar from the ancient Mayan civilization. Interpretations suggest that the fourth world, in which we live now, will end on Dec. 21, 2012.
When will the world end? I don’t know. But it seems that all I have to do to build a following of Henny Pennys, Ducky Luckys, Goosey Looseys, and Turkey Lurkeys is use some unsound science or theology and shout it with enough conviction.
I’d want to set the date just far enough into the future so that word had time to spread and more people could ‘tune in’ to my message. And, hey, I could get lucky and the world would end when I predicted and no body would be around to laugh at me.
There is so much interest in end of the world prophesies that all manner of books, movies and TV shows have been written about it. And if you really want to see how wide spread the belief in the end of the world is, go to the web. There are not only prophets making predictions, there are people preparing for it. There is a whole sub culture of people who call themselves “Preppers”. They are survivalist types who want to be ready for the ‘coming chaos’. There are sites where you can buy packages that contain a years worth of freeze dried food, water, first aid kits, ammunition, and seeds so that you can plant your own post-apocalyptic gardens.
Now understand that I am not belittling them, I believe in a certain amount of preparedness. I live in a Recreational Vehicle, a fifth-wheel trailer. My wife and I have an emergency to-go bag with some clothes, our meds, bottles of water and food bars. We change the contents as the seasons change. There have been times when the weather reports were indicating that it would be unsafe in our RV. We took the bag and sought shelter in a safer building. If our home was destroyed by the storm we had a few necessities with us. But is it really necessary or possible to prepare for the end of the world?
Our scripture readings both speak of the Day of the Lord, the day that Jesus comes in the clouds. The sun and moon will be darkened. Stars will fall from the sky and heaven and earth will pass away on that day!
That sounds like the end of the world doesn’t it? Can we be prepared for it? Yes, and Jesus tells us what to do.
Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
And why are we to watch? Paul tells the Corinthians and by extension us: Because in every way we have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind–just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among us–so that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen us to the end, so that we may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As Christians we should be prepared by keeping ourselves right with God. We ARE SAVED. That is done! Now we need to keep our will in line with God’s will. We need to be about doing what God intends for every believer to be doing. And that is spreading the Good News that Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.
As Christian we should be seeking the end of THIS world and the full realization of the Kingdom ofGod. There is nothing to fear in this world’s end, for it is a broken world. Only by its passing can the new earth and the new heaven be revealed.
So what if the stars fall and the sun and the moon are darkened? We will have the light of Christ as a physical presence in the world. I will paraphrase the message that the angels gave the shepherds at Jesus’ birth, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today there has returned for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
So often I’ve heard the phrase “The Coming Judgement” said with fear and trepidation. I say to you, we Christians have already been judged and found innocent by the grace given as a gift of God through Christ Jesus. What we have to look forward to at the end of the world is the handing out of our rewards. It is grace not judgement for us at the worlds end. So rejoice, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Amen

God bless

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All content (except quotations) ©2011 Thomas E Williams

Originally published Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Bible readings are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible