"Communicating Community

"Communicating Community

September 6,2020

(Minister-Rev.Caesar J.David|Union Park United Methodist Church)

Psalm 149

Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful. Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.

For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.

Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches. Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron, to execute on them the judgment decreed.

This is glory for all his faithful ones.

Praise the Lord!

Matthew 18:15-20

“If another member of the church[a] sins against you,[b] go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.[c] But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

"Communicating Community”

Our passage for meditation from the Gospel according to Matthew reads like the classic steps in a conflict resolution manual, but of course,we can take some of the principles it talks about and use it as a general directive for all times.

Before we begin,we have to acknowledge that this passage presents some difficulties. For example, the instructions and tone do not seem to be congruent with the ministry of Jesus that leans even more towards tenderness and forgiveness. But we must also bear in mind that Jesus did expel the merchants and the money changers from the Temple (as they sought to make it a place of business and material profit), and that did not mean that he hated them. He just hated what they were doing. Some scholars also feel that this passage sounds much more like the regulations of an ecclesiastical committee.

Talking of this, the words “Ecclesia”is translated asChurch” (NRSV), but the organized Church with a system of ecclesiastical discipline and a formal body as we have now, did not exist then, so it must refer to the Church in its functional sense of ‘assembly’, ‘gathering’ or’ community’ rather than an institutional sense.

In any case,we want to move beyond an exegesis of the passage to understand and learn some vital principles that come through very strongly in this instructive passage. It is especially good instruction today as many of us will partake of the Holy Communion, or at least join in faith and in spirit to be in communion with Jesus and with each other as we all make up the Body of Christ. The passage has definite pointers for us as a communicating community.

This reads a little like your typical Logical Framework Analysis (LFA) and can be broken down into Objective, Strategy, Method, Indicators, Outcome, Impact and so on. (In case that kind of thing appeals to you, you can read it like that).

Anyway, let’s simplify it to the essentials.

  1. The recommended method of resolving matters is communication.

Notice that the instructions are to first go and talk directly to the person who has wronged us. We are to do that privately so that it’s between the person who has done wrong and the one who feels has been wronged. What usually happens is that we talk about the person instead of to the person, and that can blow the issue out of proportion and out of our hands so that we may not be able to manage or contain it.

We’ve all had this experience when we run a whole scene in our own minds imagining responses and counter – responses. Sometimes we get agitated simply imagining a negative response and we haven’t even talked to the person yet!

The story is told about a man driving along at night and his car had a flat tire. He had a spare but no jack. He saw a light burning in a nearby house and started walking towards it. While walking toward the house he imagined asking to borrow a jack. Seeing it was night, this man imagined the house owner to be irritated at being disturbed. This was all

This was all playing out in his imagination: The man would ask him why he didn’t have a jack and scold him for being careless and disturbing other people for his mistake. By this time as the man had pressed the doorbell, he was convinced that the man inside is going to be rude, nasty and mean. That’s why, as soon as the door opened, even before the man inside could say anything, our man shouted at him” don’t want it! You can keep your jack!” and walked away.

We also do that sometimes. We start imagining things that may be far removed from reality and that can sometimes cause problems.

There are many things that can be said about communication. With our advances in communication technology it is possible to communicate in a wide variety of ways. While they offer many conveniences of speed and ease, there is no substitute for personal face-to-face communication in each others’ presence because of our capacity to communicate with more than our language and words. Our tone, eyes, touch, all of these are important for communication. There are times when we don’t say what we really mean and at other times we don’t mean what we say.

The way to keep honest but loving too brings us to the other point about this communication.

  1. The Objective is reconciliation and build, not criticize and tear down.

If we’re motivated by love and the desire to reconcile knowing that we’re a community, we will be careful of not tearing down or hurting the other person. So,our objective is to reconcile and build and strengthen the community, not to criticize,tear down or destroy.

  1. The Outcome is true Communion when Jesus is present with us.

When we seek to communicate in love, we make space for a dialog and we create an opportunity for mutual understanding. We create a loving environment that communicates love and shows that we all care for each other and want the community whose members are loving, mutually accountable, responsible -for – each- other, and which is a disciplined body.

The last two verses in our passage say that ‘where two or three are gathered, there l will be’. It talks about unity, about reconciliation, about harmony because it is in that kind of ‘coming together’ and ‘being in agreement with each other’, that we’ll have the kind of environment that honors Christ and welcomes Him.

Let’s be thankful for the Church-for the community, for each other where we can openly communicate and have communion as a family of God.

God bless you.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the opportunities to be a community to edify and protect each other.Teach us to communicate in such a way that we can experience the communion that you meant for us to have as your family and with you present.

Amen.

“Encounter with God”

Encounter with God”

August 30, 2020
(Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David | Union Park United Methodist Church)

Scripture Lessons:

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Introduction.

Today we have a beautiful passage from Genesis that talks about Moses’ encounter with God. We’re all familiar with Moses and the Burning Bush. The word “encounter” has a lot of theological significance that goes beyond what the word denotes. The denotative meaning from the dictionary is: an unexpected or casual meeting with someone or something. It basically means ‘to run into’. And Moses, while taking care of his father-in-law’s flocks, quite literally ‘ran into’ God. And yet, this meeting, as we discover later, was more than a casual encounter because it had ramifications for
Moses’ life purpose and destiny, and in fact for the destiny of an entire nation, or nations. That is what we want to focus on as we talk a little bit about ‘Encounter with God’.

An Encounter with God is more than a distant admiration or an emotional 5 minutes in our life. It’s a ‘moment’ in our history, not just a moment of chronological time. It’s not a moment of emotional or spiritual high. It’s a life-transforming all-pervading and allpermeating experience.

Let’s see a few things that Moses learned from his Encounter with God. It tells about how God is like. When we encounter God or seek to draw closer to Him, we must know that it is the same God we meet today as Moses did that day.

1. Abundance of God

When you look carefully at the passage you will notice that Moses was not surprised that the bush was on fire. Some say that it just appeared that it was on fire. If there was fire then it’s really strange, but then many scholars tell us that in that location mountain fires, trees or bushes on fire was not such a strange phenomenon after all. What was strange, and what Moses went close to find out was why it didn’t get burned up, or consumed.

We know that, for the bush to keep burning it must have a continuous supply of fuel to keep the flames alive. That talks of the abundance of God, the unending supply of his Grace and Love. Our God is the God of abundance.

• Look at the example of Jesus providing for a crowd of more than 5000 people out of five loaves and two fish. The Bible tells us that all the people ate and were satisfied: They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. (Matthew 14:20).
• We also have the example of God’s provision of Manna in the wilderness as His people were on the way to the Promised land.
• Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”. (John 10:10). And while that can include material blessings also, those are secondary. What we’re seeking is Kingdom and His Righteousness. Matthew 6:33 says,
“Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you”.

Coming back to Moses, The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, (Exodus 34:6). What else do we need?

Why is it so important to know about God’s abundance? Why is it so precious? Let’s try to understand.
When we think of the Prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), where younger son takes his share of wealth from his father and leaves home. He squanders all that wealth and then finding himself all alone and without means, remembers his fathers who he has wronged. He realizes his mistake and goes back home where he finds that his father had been waiting to welcome him with open arms with everything forgiven. We have often taken comfort from realizing that when we, like the prodigal son, repent and return to our heavenly Father, we are forgiven and welcomed.

Let me stretch the story of the prodigal son a little. What if, the prodigal son, after returning to his father’s house, stays meekly and obediently, and then after a while, for whatever reason, again fights with his father, takes his money and leaves on a second round of merry-making.

• Would you call him foolish to not have learned from his mistakes?
• Would you call him insensitive to hurt his loving father again?
• Would you call him ‘truly undeserving’ because he’s wasted even his second chance?
• Would you say that he hadn’t really repented in the first place if he made that mistake again?
• Would you say that he is a candidate for even more mercy and forgiveness?

Let’s look at ourselves. Have we perhaps done this? Have we stumbled and strayed even after we’ve tasted God’s Goodness and forgiveness? But in our stretched out ‘prodigal son’ story, let’s say that the son really realizes his mistakes, truly repents again, and comes back to his father’s house, what should the father do?

Here’s what our Heavenly Father would do: He would take you back. He would welcome you back, rejoice at your returning and forgive you again! You would bear the natural consequences of your choices, but when you want to come back to His arms, you’ll always find Him eagerly waiting! The caveat is that the repentance and remorse must be genuine. God would know if we’re trying to find loopholes to exploit His Grace!

That’s the heart of our Father God. That’s the limitless Grace and love of our abundant
God – abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. We have other examples in the
Bible like the prophet Hosea who was asked by God to marry a prostitute. Hosea married Gomer who slept with other men. Very crass imagery, but that’s about as real as it happens. God was demonstrating His love for His people although the people were unfaithful to Him (How unfaithful? Hosea 4:12 says that the people of Israel
‘prostituted’ themselves to other gods).

If you’ve made mistakes and strayed away from God a second or a third time and feeling foolish or doubtful if you deserve God’s love, have no worry, if you’re really sorry and repenting of your sins, God’s Grace is abundant. 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” God really loves you!

2. A communicating God

That brings us to a second aspect of this encounter that we must appreciate. God called out to Moses by name. God calls out to you and me today. We may not be able to hear it above the din that is around us.

We can be sure that our God is not a concept or an academic construct. Our God is a Personal God who watches over us, cares for us, and longs for fellowship with us.
When we pray to Him, we can be sure that God listens, understands and answers.

3. Simple but profound

Moses was doing his business of grazing the flock on an ordinary day in an ordinary way. This encounter of Moses with God completely changed him and his life. What seemed like a simple encounter and a chance meeting had such a profound impact on all nations and history. We don’t often pay attention to the little, simple and ordinary things in life because we don’t expect to find anything significant in them. But it is possible that the little moments of quietness, simple thoughts that compel little actions, the simple plans made by sincere minds, all these may glorify God. Not every revival begins in a dramatic way. Small changes, little acts of love, small beginnings, small dreams, small, unsteady steps, all these don’t seem like much but can all have a big impact. We must learn to recognize God’s Hand in our day-to-day affairs and acknowledge the little miracles that surround us.

One of my favorite poems is William Blake’s “Auguries of innocence”. I like the way he starts by drawing attention to the profound in the seemingly simple:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour…

And it continues.

Conclusion.

Here are some questions I want to leave with you –

• Where might you encounter (or have encountered) God? It could be an unlikely place.
• Do you realize His abundance of love and faithfulness?
• Does that fill you with joy and hope for yourself and your loved ones?
• Do we take the time to talk to Him and also listen to what He has to say?
• Moses was used by God to free His people from slavery in Egypt. Can we make ourselves available to be used by God to liberate people from slavery to fears, defeat and hopelessness.

Prayer.

Heavenly Father,
Thank you for your Love, forgiveness, Grace and restoration. Make us eager to heed your voice and to walk in obedience to your Will and plan for our lives. Help us to see and acknowledge your Greatness in everything so that we may honor you in everything.
In Jesus’ precious name we pray, Amen.

“ Who do you say I am?”

Guest Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David | Union Park United Methodist Church, Des Moines, IA

Psalm 124

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side —let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us; then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us; then over us would have gone
the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,

who has not given us
as prey to their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,

who made heaven and earth

Matthew 16:13 –20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the messiah.

“ Who do you say I am?”

In this passage we have a significant moment of spiritual encounter for Peter. (We have here Peter’s confession). Jesus asks his disciples these two questions:

A. Who do people say I am?
B. Who do you say I am?
To the first question they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14) Some said that he was John the Baptist. They felt that John the Baptist was so great a figure that it might well be that he had come back from the dead.

When the people identified Jesus with Elijah and with Jeremiah they were, according to their understanding, paying him a great compliment and setting him in a high place, for Jeremiah and Elijah were none other than the expected forerunners of the Anointed One of God. When they arrived, the Kingdom would be very near indeed.

To the second question, Peter answers “You are the Messiah”.

The three gospels have their own version of the saying of Peter. Matthew 16:16, Mark 8:29, Luke 9:20 variously say “Messiah”, “Christ” or “Anointed One”.

The word Messiah and the word Christ are the same; the one is from the Hebrew and the other is from the Greek for The Anointed One. Kings were ordained to office by anointing. The Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One is God’s King over men.

(Christ comes from the Greek word χριστός (chrīstós), meaning “anointed one”. The word is derived from the Greek verb χρίω (chrī́ō), meaning “to anoint.” In the Greek Septuagint 1 , Christos was used to translate the Hebrew ָ שִׁ י ח ַ (Mašíaḥ, messiah), meaning “[one who is] anointed” – Wikipedia)
It’s important for us to under stand that this question is not just about the identity and work of Jesus Christ, but it is also about the allegiance of the one who answers. Peter’s confession recognizes and affirms Jesus as The Christ or Messiah. And this came from God-given wisdom, not human knowledge. It is when Peter has reached a certain level of understanding and knowing Jesus that he is able to make that confession.

That question is directed at us today. “Who do you think I am?” Who is Jesus to you?

(1 A Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament), including the Apocrypha, made for Greek-speaking Jews in Egypt in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC and adopted by the early Christian Churches. )

Your answer must go beyond the intellectual and the academic.

 Your answer will depend on your approach to knowing Jesus.
 And your answer will determine how much you love and honor Him.

So when Jesus is asking “Who do you say I am?”, He’s asking you “What am I to you?” or “What do I mean to you?”

Let me suggest 3 ways, approaches or levels of ‘knowing’ Jesus that we may have according to the focus or basis of that relationship . We may say that “Jesus is the Christ”, but we may have different things in focus in our relationship with Jesus. Let’s get into a little detail to know what those could be.

1. Relating to Jesus with a focus on only fulfilment of our physical needs.

Jesus is known to many as healer, miracle-man, wonder- worker and so on. It’s possible that our approach to Jesus is limited to having some need fulfilled. It could be a physical blessing of some sort: the provision of something we need, and the removal of something that impedes our perceived happiness.

Unfortunately, that can sometimes become the limited scope of our relationship with Jesus. We go to Him only when we’re in need, or when we’re in pain or when we really want something.

Jesus is not dismissive of such a relationship that is based on our needs. Often our walk with the Lord begins that way. But if that does not lead to a growing spiritual awareness of all that Jesus wants to do in us and through us, then our relationship is limited to a temporal and material one and does not grow enough to really honor the Lord.

2. Relating to Jesus with a focus on only receiving spiritual benefits.

We may go beyond the material and physical to understanding how we stand to receive spiritual benefits in relating to Jesus at a higher level. If the spiritual benefits are the only things in focus in our relationship with Jesus and is the basis of it, we may still be unyielding and selfish in only wanting an escape and an insurance.

Jesus did pay the price for our sins, we have forgiveness and eternal life in the merit of His blood. It is God’s Grace freely given; we just have to receive it. But if that is our only focus in our relationship with the Lord and we do nothing to make that relationship grow or we do not grow in love with Jesus, then perhaps we know Jesus only as an escape hatch. If so, we’re still not at a level of knowing Jesus in a way that brings Him honor, glory and joy.

3. Relating to Jesus with a focus on our unworthiness, His unmerited Grace and seeking to love Him.

This is the level of knowing Jesus with a truly repentant, broken, humble and contrite heart. When we know Jesus and approach Him out of a sense of remorse and sadness because we have displeased Him we will find ourselves most prepared to receive His mercy with the greatest joy. This is where we’re seeking forgiveness for our sins more than any other thing.

Many of us may have experienced that at this level of understanding who Jesus is, we are completely aware of our own wretchedness and we’re not seeking to get any benefits because we know that we don’t deserve any. We’re just craving to say “sorry” and craving the opportunity to express our love for Him because that’s what we want to do the most – to get right with God, to love Him as He first loved us.

It is then that we discover the things that bring pleasure to God and how we can honor Him. It is then that we discover the beauty and true joy of our relationship with the Lord.

Co ming back to the question of Jesus, “Who do you say I am?” We’ve each got to answer it for ourselves. Think hard. Think honestly.
 Is Jesus only a way to get some material benefits.
 Is Jesus just an insurance policy to keep me out of hell?
 Is Jesus my King and Lord – Someone to whom I completely surrender and want to serve and love?

If your answer reveals that you’re honoring God, Praise the Lord! If your answer reveals that you still may not be in love with God, don’t be discouraged. Peter was not able to respond in his own wisdom. It was heavenly wisdom. With more experiences of His love, more awareness of His working in our lives, with prayer for greater understanding of His ways, we will find a deeper, richer and more satisfying and growing relationship with the Lord – We will know about being in love with God.

God bless you.

IT IS A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH!

*

OPENING PRAYERS

Let us take a moment of silent prayer to lift these voiced joys and concerns to God as we also lift those unspoken concerns of our hearts.

O Lord our God, you are always more ready to bestow your good gifts on us than we are to seek them, and are willing to give more than we desire or deserve.

Help us so to seek that we may truly find so to ask that we may joyfully receive, so to knock that the door of your mercy may be opened to us; through Jesus Christ our Savior.

And all God’s people said “Amen”

1st READING Romans 6:2b-23
How can we who died to sin go on living in it?

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, So we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death.
But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

2ND READING Matthew 10:40-42
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous;
and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

3RD READING PSALM 13
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS

Lord, we who are imprisoned by our sins, have become so comfortable with that imprisonment that we are afraid to come into Your light and into the freedom you offer.

We are like little mice that venture slowly into the light and then scurry back into the darkness.

We are so fearful of change, but we truly want to become the people you intend us to be.

Can we truly be forgiven?

I am the God who forgives your sins, and I do this because of who I am. I will not hold your sins against you.

Isaiah 43:25 (TEV)

MESSAGE IT IS A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH!

IT IS A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH!

In his letter to the Romans, Paul, the Jew of Jews, schooled in the 613 commandments of the Hebrew law, like a good lawyer, hammers away at his point from many angles.

He repeats his arguments over and over.

Here is His main point right up front.

How can we who died to sin go on living in it?

Indeed, if we have died to sin – how can we go on living in it? Why would we want to?

We were prisoners to sin. Why would we return to that life?

Why would people released from prison return to doing the things that put them in prison?

The correct term for this is recidivism. (rE-sid-eh-vism)

I found some statistics about recidivism – that is people who have been released from prison but end up returning to prison.

Two studies come closest to providing “national” recidivism rates for the United States. One tracked 108,580 State prisoners released from prison in 11 States in 1983. The other tracked 272,111 prisoners released from prison in 15 States in 1994.

The prisoners tracked in these studies represent two-thirds of all the prisoners released in the United States for that year.

67.5% of prisoners released in 1994 were rearrested within 3 years, an increase over the 62.5% found for those released in 1983

The re-arrest rate for property offenders, drug offenders, and public-order offenders increased significantly from 1983 to 1994. During that time, the rate increased:

– to 74% for property offenders

– 67% for drug offenders

– to 62% for public-order offenders

The re-arrest rate for violent offenders remained relatively stable at about 60

Overall, reconviction rates did not change significantly from 1983 to 1994.

Among, prisoners released nearly 47% were reconvicted within 3 years

Among drug offenders, the rate of reconviction increased significantly, going from 35% in 1983 to 47% in 1994.

The 1994 recidivism study estimated that within 3 years, 52% of prisoners released during the year were back in prison either because of a new crime for which they received another prison sentence, or because of a technical violation of their parole.

Why?

One theory has to do with how people “see” themselves – their identity.

Identity develops through the application and adoption of labels.

Labeling theory argues that people develop as a result an identity forced upon them and then adopting the identity, or by self adopting an identity until that identity is accepted as their norm.

People are creatures of habit. Over time we become comfortable in whatever situation we are in.

For example, abused spouses often stay with the abusing spouse even when given an opportunity to safely leave.

Sexually abused children often grow to be sexually abusive adults.

As another example of how we become comfortable in our surroundings; several years ago a group of us went to the Appalachian mountains on a mission trip.

This is coal country. And the mines are mostly closed.

Real unemployment is around 80%. By REAL I mean not the unemployment rates reported by the government which only tracks those who are drawing unemployment benefits.

Because once the benefits have run out, they are no longer counted – even though they are still unemployed.

At any rate, we discovered that many children who grew up in the area would leave, once they became adults, and seek employment elsewhere.

That seems understandable to me.

However, the majority of these people would quickly leave their jobs and return to the area where the odds of finding another job were nearly nonexistent.

Why?

Because it was HOME. It was what they were conditioned to accept as normal.

Paul is making his argument that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.”

This is a sudden and radical identity change that Paul is talking about.

And Paul knows something about radical identity change,

Remember Saul the Jewish zealot who hunted down the Christian believers.

This Paul, who was knocked to his knees and blinded by the light of Jesus Christ, is arguing that once we are baptized into Christ, we are dead to sin. That is, that sin no longer lives in us.

The death Christ died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Here he is exhorting us to “live the change” that has occurred in us. He recognizes how easy it is for us, who have been freed from sin, to willfully return to it.

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness,

Don’t put yourself in harms way. As an example: If you have a weakness for drink, stay away from places where you find drink. If you have lust in your heart, avoid the things that trigger the lust.

Whatever your weakness is, let the Spirit heal you and then don’t pick at the scab!

Then “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.

Take those areas of weakness and give them to God and He will turn them into tools for His kingdom.

Notice here that he is saying that Christ has done His part.

Now it is time for us to do our part.

Avoid the things we used to do.

And not just avoid the OLD but embrace the NEW, to become obedient to the will of God.

As he puts it, ”You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

Here he gives thanks to God “that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

Paul now asks us to consider our two paths – the old and the new – and what lay at the end of each of those paths.

“When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.

That means that when we were living in sin we could do anything we wanted without regard for the law – because we were already “law breakers”

So, he asks, “So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death.

Have you ever had someone say is essence that “I’ll live this life the way I want and then when I come near death, I’ll repent and be saved?”

Why?

Why would you want to continue down the path of destruction when you could be in fellowship with God?

Do people really think that the Devil throws better parties than God?

He doesn’t!

The Devil’s parties are just slow ways of destroying your body, your mind and of course your soul!

Here is the good news,now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.”

Once my heart was heavy with a load of sin. Jesus took my burdens and gave me peace and joy within my heart and now I’m singing as the days go by. Jesus took my burdens all away.”

I don’t have to walk this road alone.

I don’t have to carry these burdens alone.

His yoke is easy because He does most of the work.

I no longer need to fear the future. Because even when hard times come, my savior is near.

Yes, the road of righteousness is hard at times.

But so is the road to destruction and there is no help on that road,

just the Devil goading you on while he laughs at you.

Paul says,For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”

Paul makes it very clear that the our choices are to go back to our old sinful ways and be dead to God, or to live the new life, purchased for us by Jesus Christ and given as a free gift of God, and be in eternal fellowship with God.

Which identity we choose is up to us.

Life or death.

Which path will you follow?

Let us join together in this version of the Lord’s Prayer.

THE LORD’S PRAYER Matthew 6:9-13

from “The Message”

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best— as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

The affirmation of saying Yes Yes Yes. Seemed strange to me. But that is what Amen is – an affirmation. As a child I thought it meant “over and out – end of transmission” But it more closely means “Make it So” Where ever He leads me Make it So!

DISMISSAL WITH BLESSING

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
Amen.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
Amen.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
Amen.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
Amen.

And the Blessing of God, who Creates, Redeems and Sanctifies, be upon you and all you love and pray for this day, and forever more.
Amen.

FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is “Christian Theology and Ecclesiology, 101”

Romans 6:12-23 leads those of us influenced by American Reformed Evangelicalism to familiar territory, part of what’s been called in some evangelistic tracts, The Roman Road. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

This is a true and powerful text in its own right, even extracted from its proper context as most “Roman Road” presentations use it. But what Paul has offered us in these words in the context of Romans 6 is a much richer description of life in the body of Christ.

And an important part of the context of these words is not just the words on the page, but the religious and cultural assumptions that come with them. In Paul’s day, any notion of a sharp separation between ritual actions in community and the life of that community was unthinkable. Ritual life was not virtual life; it was real life in its most basic forms expressed ritually.

That is why Christians and Jews objected so heartily to idolatry and the worship of other people or gods, because for them, the ritual itself declared either non-reality (there are no other gods) or reality distorted (the god portrayed is a false one). This also meant that if there were a disconnect between what was expressed in a community’s ritual and how the people who celebrated it actually lived, the ritual was not the problem. The problem was failure to live the reality the ritual declared and embodied.

The ritual in question in this section of Paul’s letter to the Christians at Rome is baptism. Baptism happens to us and changes us. We have been buried with Christ in baptism, and raised with Christ in baptism to walk in newness of life, Paul says earlier (verse 4). If indeed we have been buried with Christ in baptism, we are actually dead to and freed from sin. If indeed we have been raised with Christ in baptism, we are actually freed from the power of death.

The key word here is “freed.” Just as a captive is set free from bondage, so we have been set free from sin and death. The captive set free is not thereby authorized to do whatever he or she wants, but rather to live lawfully, as a dutiful servant to the law among the people once again. Likewise, those freed from sin and death are not thereby authorized to live any way they please, but rather to live righteously as dutiful servants to righteousness in the communion of God and the saints on earth and in heaven.

Here’s the heart of Paul’s analogy in these verses. What former captive in his or her right mind would attempt to live lawlessly after being freed from captivity, unless the condition of captivity has become “home”? Likewise, given that we have been freed in baptism from sin and death, why would we give ourselves to the ways of sin and death again, rather than submitting to the righteousness of God in which we now stand?

Given the baptismal vows that have developed from the earliest centuries we might ask some more pointed questions. If we have been given grace and power to renounce the forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, repent from sin, resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, why do we seem so timid and powerless in the face of these things around us? Is not our timidity a sign that we have resubmitted ourselves to sin and death, rather than, as the vows continue, to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in union with his living body, the church?

“God and You”

Guest Minister: Rev. Caesar J. David of Union Park United Methodist Church, Des Moines, Iowa

  • Scripture Lessons:
Genesis 22:1-14
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

Matthew 10:40-42
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Sermon“God and You”

God provided for Abraham so that he didn’t need to sacrifice his son, lsaac. God provided a ram for the sacrifice instead. Abraham called that place “Jehovah Jireh” (The Lord will provide).

There are a just a couple of things to note as we understand God as our provider in a very personal way.
God knows what you need. Our God is a personal God.We have a personal relationship with God.Sure we can worship Him as a family, as a Church family or as a community, but God has you in sight as an individual too. Last week we read in the Scripture passage we read from Matthew about how intimately God knows you (Even the hairs on your head are numbered!).
And we each have our own sets of needs and individual circumstances. God knows exactly what they are.God knows your struggles, your disappointments, your fears, your secrets. God knows what you need. It may be different from what I need, or from what your spouse needs. God is aware of your individual, personal needs – physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.2. You must have faith. Because of the personal relationship we each have with God, we must seek to strengthen it by a personal effort. That would include adding personal meditation time to corporate worship, praying to have personal conversation with God and making time to listen to Him, making changes in behavior, priorities, attitudes and so on so that my life becomes pleasing to Him, and I can honor Him with my personal talents and resources. lt also means that I must exercise my faith.
In Matthew 9:20-22,we read about the woman who suffered with the ‘issue of blood’ who made her way through the crowds to Jesus with the thought, ‘if l could only touch the hem of His garment, I will be healed’, exhibited that kind of faith and connection that is needed. She was part of a crowd following Jesus,but she stood out from the rest of the crowd by reaching out to personally touch Jesus,and in that she received a personal blessing – she was healed.
Hebrews 11:6 says,”Without faith it is impossible to please God”. Faith is sort of, a precondition for blessing in the sense of being in preparation of and alignment with the outpouring of God’s blessings.
3. God’s provision is unique for you. We sometimes get disappointed because we look at how God has cared for or provided for someone we know, but God is not doing anything for us. God has made us each unique. His provision for each of us is also unique. We cannot compare our burdens with those of others, neither blessings. It can be such a comfort to know that no matter how strange our circumstances may be, how convoluted and entangled we feel, God has a perfect solution. We need to stay faithful and stay in faith to see God’s unique, timely, sufficient and awesome provision.
While God cares for our temporal needs and answers our prayers for these, His love for us is so great that it covers us for all eternity. God has made a provision for us to be saved from eternal death and have eternal life instead. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life”.
Gen. 22:2 He said, “Take your son,your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.
2 Chr.3:1 Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
Scholars debate over if Moriah the same place – Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified as the sacrificial lamb after many centuries. Genesis mentions “land of Moriah” vs. “Mount Moriah.” in 2 Chronicles or the vicinity where the Jerusalem temple was built after hundreds of years. lt certainly is in the vicinity.
Leaving aside the history and geography of the debate aside,let’s note that Jehovah Jireh- The Lord provides – not only things we need in our earthly life, but Life for all eternity. It’s the same place where God provided for Abraham a ram to take the place of his son, lsaac as sacrifice so that he may not physically die,that,God provided his own Son, Jesus,to be the perfect and sinless sacrifice for our sins so that we may not die the eternal death that we deserve for our sins.
God knows what you need.
You must have faith.
God’s provision is unique for you. God has the ultimate provision for you – Eternal Life. God bless you to understand His Word and to respond to His Love for you so that, if you haven’t already, you must taste and see that the Lord is Good and His Mercy endures forever.
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"Light for my path

Guest Minister-Rev.Caesar J.David|Union Park UMC, Des Moines, Iowa

Scripture Lessons:

Psalm 119:105-112

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.

107 I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word.

108 Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your ordinances.

109 I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.

110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.

111 Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.

112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.[a] 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Light For My Path

Our Gospel reading is Jesus’ Parable of the Sower.The Parable of the sower is an ‘allegory’ about the Kingdom of God. The seed is used as a metaphor for the Word of God.And the parable goes on to describe the various kinds of soils that the Word of God can be received in, and depending on which,the result will be a crop being produced or not.

Our lectionary reading from Psalm 119 also tells about the Word of God.One of the conclusions we draw from Psalm 119 is that the Bible is more than “just another religious book”. It is not an academic textbook for learning about religion or even life.The Bible is a dynamic book.It is living. It speaks words that have power.

In v.105,the lamp and light is used as a metaphor for the Word of God. Other metaphors used for the Word of God are: sword, mirror, milk, hammer, fire, etc. Psalm 119:105 says,”Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”.

Today’s message is a simple reminder about the Word of God as it lights up our path.

The first thing that the Word of God, as Light, does for us is:

1.It clearly shows us where we stand.

It clearly shows us if we’re standing in the danger spot of our own sin, bitterness, arrogance, stubbornness, unforgiveness, injustice, hard-heartedness, and idolatry.

We may be good, virtuous, righteous in our own sight, but the Word of God reveals us as sinners and as people prone to sin.We may look good in our own eyes,or even in the eyes of people around us,but the Word of God shines its light in the darkest corners of our hearts.

When we walk in ignorance, we may continue making mistakes,sometimes even being unaware of them, God’s Word lights up our path so that we can be sure that we’re walking in the right direction.

2.It is the absolute standard so that we need never doubt. We sometimes measure our steps and direction, right or wrong, according to our own ideas and framework of knowledge. At other times, we measure our steps and evaluate ourselves based on what people say, what society says.That can sometimes leave us feeling inadequate and deficient. The only sure way to know is The Word of God which is the absolute standard of Truth and makes everything clear.

3.The Word of God,as light, directs our steps and keeps us headed in the right direction. It enables us to see mot only dangers,but also the opportunities ahead of us Without the Word of God to enlighten us of the kind of obstacles that are in our way, we would trip and fall. Without the Word of God shining on our path to tell us which is the right path to take and which is the one to avoid, we may end up going the way of complete destruction. It is the Word of God that lights up our way and keeps us on the path of blessing,the path of peace, protection and prosperity.

If we have been neglecting to read the Word of God, let’s begin today. Open your Bible and start reading. The Word of God is dynamic. The Bible is alive and active. It will speak to you and your particular situation. You will discover for yourself how it will be like a lamp directing your steps and illuminating your path so that you will find yourself in alignment with God’s plan for your life. There are blessings to be discovered.

The Bible: banned, bumed, beloved. More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history. Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it; dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it. Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it more powerful than their weapons. Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentle saints.” -Charles Colson

That power of the Word of God is available to you and me today.

Let the Word of God light your path, and light up your life. God bless you.

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Trouble! You Will Have Some

Trouble! You Will Have Some

1st Scripture Reading:

Jeremiah 20:7-13

“O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”

For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.

For I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. “Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.”

But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.

O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.

Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers

Responsive reading: Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18

It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.

I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.

It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.

When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.

I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.

With your faithful help rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.

Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.

Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress–make haste to answer me.

Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.”

Gospel Reading:

Matthew 10:24-39

A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Message:

Trouble! You Will Have Some!

Many non-christians think that by being a Christian you have no troubles. Unfortunately, many Christians seem to think that, by being a Christian, they should have no troubles. Their voices raise to God, “Why me, Lord? I’ve been good and faithful to you. Why am I attacked, day and night?”

Why are we made to suffer through (insert your own trouble here.) I’m going to stop talking for a moment. During this silence, look into your own life a see the things that are troubling you.

  • Death past,present, or impending death

  • Sickness and injuries

  • Financial worries

  • Social issues, both personal and global

  • Marital turmoil

  • Unconfessed or hidden sin

It is important to remember that this is no longer the perfect world that God created for us. That world became broken with the first sin.

Also remember:

1 Corinthians 10:13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

Saint Paul knew something of pain and suffering. He was beaten, run out of town, cursed, lied about, and thrown into prison. And yet, he was not broken. For he knew, “those who lose their life for (Jesus’s) sake will find it.

Just as some Christian believe that their life in the faith should provide them a trouble free life, there are far to many Christian who do not like the militaristic tone of Jesus’s message here. They are quite willing to accept Jesus saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

However,they are disturbed when they read Jesus saying, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Jesus, the man of love and peace, wielding a sword? I can’t quite imagine it. The same teacher that taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)

The same teacher that taught, “Love your enemy,” now says, “one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”

And why are our enemies in our own family? Jesus said, “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Please, friends, don’t tell me that you are unaware that we are in a war. Since the garden of Eden a battle has been raging. God and his angels have been working to repair that which was caused by that Old Deceiver when he tempted Eve to eat of the one tree that God had expressly forbidden.

In the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6, verse 12, we read, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Jesus knew where the true battle was being waged, in the heart, mind, and soul of every human being, past, present, and future. As a consequence of this struggle, in and for the very souls of humanity, families will be torn apart. Jesus knew that not everyone was ready to accept the gift he was about to provide.

The law and the prophets had provided a bridge over the chasm that mankind created between themselves and God.

Jesus knew that his sacrifice was about to fill and seal that void. He also knew that not all would accept the gift, indeed they would fight believing and accepting that gift. He knew that those who carried the Good News of freedom from sin would be reviled, beaten, and abused by family and friends. This was his warning to his followers.

He knew that, just as he was to suffer and die at the hands of those who hardened their hearts against the eternal life saving miracle of freedom from sin, … just as he suffered, his followers would also.

We live in a time and place where we will likely never be beaten or killed for our belief. Do not be fooled into thinking that the battle has been won. Lack of outward resistance should never be considered as acceptance.

Ask yourselves:

  • Do I daily immerse myself in the word of God?

  • Do I praise Him daily?

  • Do I pray open, honest, heartfelt prayers?

  • Do I listen and look for God’s guidance?

  • Have I :

  1. Fed the hungry?
  2. Given. drink to the thirsty?
  3. Welcomed a stranger
  4. Clothed the naked
  5. Comforted the sick?
  6. Visited the imprisoned?

In short, have you caused trouble for the devil today?

Is the Spirit of the Lord prompting, pushing, demanding that you speak his message? Can you, along with the prophet Jeremiah, say, For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”

If there is no burning fire within you, then you need to fan those God given embers into flame.

Look again at Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18

It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.

I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.

It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.

When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.

I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.

Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.”

David knew, Jeremiah knew, and Jesus knew, when you earnestly seek to do the will of God, troubles will follow you. I would go so far as to suggest that, if the evil one isn’t causing troubles in your life, it may be because you aren’t troubling him.

Don’t go out breathing hellfire and brimstone. Go into all the world sharing the Good News of the victory in Jesus with everyone.

Go forth, Christian, not to give them hell, but to give them heaven.

Here ends the message.

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“Be yoked”

Guest Minister – Rev, Caesar J. David, Union Park United Methodist Church, Des Moines, Iowa

Scripture Lessons:

Psalm 45:10-17
Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention:

Forget your people and your father’s house.
Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.
The city of Tyre will come with a gift,people of wealth will seek your favor.
All glorious is the princess within her chamber; her gown is interwoven with gold.
In embroidered garments she is led to the king;
her virgin companions follow her—those brought to be with her.
Led in with joy and gladness,
they enter the palace of the king. Your sons will take the place of your fathers;

you will make them princes throughout the land. I will perpetuate your memory through all generations;

therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever.

Matthew 11:25-30

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Be yoked”

As we celebrate Independence day (USA). It’s the day when we thank God for having the freedom as a country and also as individuals. What’s the difference? We must realize that there are countries in the world that are independent, but that does not automatically translate to freedom for its people.

If we think about our freedom and privileges against the backdrop of what’s happening in other countries around the world, maybe we will realize how precious this freedom is. We may have been taking it for granted or even feeling entitled. It is indeed our privilege; we’re just blessed to have it. We must ponder over a few things as we think about our freedom. For example, we must ask if our exercise of freedom is getting in the way of other people s experience of freedom that they’re also entitled to. Do I care? May be not. But what happens when someone else’s idea of freedom gets in my face? I hope we’re grappling with those kind of questions as we think of our freedom on this occasion of Independence day.

  • Am I abusing the freedom I have?

  • Am I misusing the freedom I have?

  • Am I under-using the freedom I have?

There may not be clear-cut answers, but we do have certain directions that we can think in. And that direction comes from the Word of God which alone is the path of blessing.

So, we cherish our freedom. God made us free. God gives freedom and our national constitution ensures it. With the kind of fierce independence that is our very soul, it might be hard to read a passage such as in Matthew 11:25-30 which talks about a Yoke. First of all, what’s a yoke? The dictionary says: a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull.

Lets talk about this yoke and what it may mean for as especially as we re thinking about this great land of America, freedom and the current context.

1. Yoke signifies partnership.

First of all there is the concept of partnership. It s a move away from being alone. The concept of partnership is strongly recommended in the Bible. Right from creating man and woman as a couple, to the pairs of animals in Noah’s ark, to Jesus sending out the apostles two by two, and later the promise of the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide and accompany us, we know that God wants us to have help and not struggle in our own strength.

So, being yoked would also mean having Jesus as a partner, He’s there to help and lighten your burden. His yoke, His way, is the lighter load to bear in this world in which there are forces that work to destroy us. Praise God for Jesus is with us. He struggles with us. He shares our burden and makes it light. He takes upon Himself the biggest burden which is the burden of sin and its resultant punishment. And that is why we’re free – from the burden of sin and eternal death.

Take my yoke upon you.,. and you will find rest for your souls’. Yoke signifies control.

The idea of ‘being controlled’ can be repulsive at first blush. But let s think a little deeper about the whole idea of control. Is all control bad? Is it helpful in some way?

For example, is it helpful in the sense of having a direction, purpose and becoming a blessing. The yoke is part of the instrument and process that is used to plough the land, to make it fertile and productive. Taking that yoke means giving a degree of control to God for us to be used as a blessing in that land. President Kennedy spoke these famous words “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”. And I’m sure that we all find that inspiring and we seek to do everything in our power to make our country great.

This Independence day, let’s think about the ways in which I am a blessing to this land.

Being yoked also removes the focus from ourselves and we know that ifs not all about me Freedom and Responsibility are just two sides of the same coin. Sometimes we take more seriously our freedom and not seriously enough our responsibility and what we owe. When we are able to look beyond ourselves well know that it s also about the land that I belong to, the people of this land; it’s about us all.

When we re yoked with Christ, our lives are in tandem with the values of Christ. These values and principles include 一

love and forgiveness,

unity, peace and justice,

serving and being the least

putting ourselves last

forbearance and kindness

equality

etc.

May God bless us to understand His Word and to accept His offer of Salvation, His offer of unburdening ourselves and becoming an instrument of blessing to people and the land that we co-habit.

-Prayer

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for blessing us to have the privileges of this land and its people. Forgive our arrogance, ignorance and negligence. Teach us to be sensitive, grateful and eager to be a blessing. Help us find rest within so that we will have peace around us.

Amen.

“ March forward”

Guest Minister -Rev. Caesar J. David, Pastor, Union Park United Methodist Church, Des Moines, Iowa

Video of service

Scripture Lessons:

Psalm 116

I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones. O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!

Matthew 9:35-10:8

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

“ March forward”This passage from Matthew contains the account of Jesus calling and sending out the Twelve Apostles. When we read further in the passage (v. 16ff), Jesus lets them know that it is not an easy task that they have been given. They will have to face persecutions and hardships.
It is like soldiers being sent out to battle. And talking of battles an d soldiers, we have a very beautiful Hymn that you will be singing in this service. It’s called “Onward Christian Soldiers”. It’s a sort of controversial hymn.
The hymn began as no more than a simple processional song, something for children to sing as they crossed the village of Horbury Bridge to the parish church (Yorkshire, England). The author, Sabine Baring-Gould (1834–1924) who was a school master, later became a Pastor, in writing this hymn set the scene for the spiritual conflict between Jesus and the devil. It became controversial because of the perceived militarism in text and music (“St. Gertrude” which is the second tune used in an arrangement by George Sullivan in 1871). Now, we won’t get into the details of the Anglican / Roman Catholic ecclesial understanding of the states of Church – the Church Militant, Church Penitent and Church Triumphant, but let’s just say that history had some chapters like the Crusades, holy wars and other wars and so on. And it wasn’t easy to ignore the nationalistic and militaristic overtones of this Hymn.
It comes as little surprise, then, to learn that “Onward, Christian Soldiers” was initially to be excluded from The United Methodist Hymnal (1989). The decision was picked up by local newspapers and national broadcasters, unleashing a wave of protest from across The United Methodist Church (some eleven thousand pieces of mail were sent to the hymnal committee).
The restoration of the hymn resulted from a course of healthy debate over the use of military imagery, and recognizing its biblical and early Christian origins. People still thought that it may be dangerous in perpetuating the acceptability of religious warfare — metaphorical or otherwise.
Professor of Preaching Emeritus Thomas Long’s 2012 article in The Christian Century, “The absurd in worship,” suggests another meaning to the hymn — not in viewing the church as an entity able to militaristically destroy its enemies, but as one that “makes no advance except that of love, and has no enemy but that which undermines God’s hope for human flourishing.”
Today, if we are to consider ourselves as soldiers – Christian soldiers that are at war, it would not be incorrect, for we are indeed at war. Of what kind? Let’s see. The theme of spiritual warfare is deep in the Bible. Many Christian denominations still speak of “The Church Militant”. The Methodists define it as those “engaged in constant warfare against the world, the flesh and the devil…Ephesians 6 talks about the battle gear! It says ‘put on the whole armor of God’ and it goes on to mention (Ephesians 6:10-20):
 Belt of Truth.  Breastplate of Righteousness.
 Feet fitted with readiness to proclaim the Gospel of Peace.
 Shield of Faith.
 Helmet of Salvation.
 Sword of the Spirit — The Word of God.
Notice who we’re fighting. Eph 6:12 says: For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.Coming back to our text (I want to focus on Matthew 10:8), Jesus sent out his Apostles with very specific instructions:
Mat t 10:8a – Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.
No doubt, Jesus also healed physical ailments and expects those He sends on His behalf to do the same, but there’s a deeper spiritual dimension to this and we need to understand that in the larger, scheme of Jesus’ teaching and ministry about justice, gender-justice, peace, equality, affirmative action, call to faith and service, affirmation of the Reign of God, socio-economic sensitivity and so on – what these might further mean.1. Cure the sick.
One of the main signs of being sick is being weak. And it works both ways: weakness can lead to sickness, and sickness can lead to weakness. In any case, there is a close connection for us to know that the people who are weak are sick or close to being sick. Going beyond the physical affliction and understanding it metaphorically as well, we can see that people can be weakened in the sense of being disempowered and disenfranchised. People can be divested of their power to make choices, weakened to the point of subsistence or even substandard living, or forced by circumstances to not have the strength or opportunity to make changes to lift themselves out of those circumstances.The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a great comfort in seeking to address these struggles. The Good news is that God is interested in our affairs and struggles with us for justice and peace.As people ‘called out’ and ‘sent’ to heal and cure the sick, we need to l ook at how we may bring healing to the lives of the people afflicted in every way, not only physical, but spiritual, social and economic too. Our efforts to do that may take us into the area of charity, social justice, advocacy and focusing on people in the margins of our society. It’s not easy and we may find ourselves indeed contending with the ‘powers and principalities’ of this world.2. Raise the dead
There is the obvious message for people ‘dead’ in sin – so mired in sin that this condition has removed people far from the source of life and light. If we are in that state, we can rejoice in the hope we have in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ that gives life.When we see others in this condition, we need to reflect and shine the light of Christ in a way that they are brought to the saving and life-giving knowledge of the love of our Savior Jesus Christ.We may also be dead in the sense that we don’t feel anything – nothing moves us. We lose our sensitivity, our conscious is dead. If we find people around us in that state, may be, our efforts could be towards building awareness so that we would all be alive and alert to what ails us as a society and what our responsibility should be to contribute to the health of our society and world.
If we have become dispassionate or come across apathy, let’s make efforts to reignite the passion for the kind of life that God meant for us all to have as His created beings. The Good News of Jesus Christ includes abundant life for all.3. Cleanse the lepers
We know that lepers were considered unclean. They had to live on the outskirts of the town. They were not allowed to use the same resources as other people. Today, we may or may not have people around us that are afflicted with the disease of leprosy, but in our social treatment of some people we certainly have ‘social lepers’ – people that we keep far from us. And we’re not talking only about the redlining of neighborhoods. This can perhaps educate us about those that are ostracized, marginalized and relegated to live in shame or fear on the periphery of our mainstream society. Who could these people be? May be those that are of a different orientation, or people with a different skin color, or a certain race / nationality, may be disabled, may be those that hold a different ideology, and so on. When we observe systems and people that discriminate and exclude some people from mainstream activity, we must counter that with actively building up inclusive, democratic and participatory processes towards a more egalitarian society. That will cleanse the leprosy and there won’t be lepers. Can we understand that as as we do a social reading of the Gospel message?4. Cast out demons
A demon-possessed person was a person in the grip of an evil power; he or she was no longer in control of himself/herself and of their actions. The various manifestations of evil can be seen in the diabolical crimes and atrocities we see committed. For example, there are crimes against women and children, violence and injustice that are really demonic and represent forces of evil, death and destruction. When we make efforts to root out these evils, we’re participating in building up the Kingdom of God, because then we’re replacing these dark things with the Reign of God – replacing hatred with love, revenge with tolerance, selfishness with compassion, suspicion with trust, greed with caring and so on. We can bring faith, hope and love to counter the demons of our society.I hope that we are able to see what an important task we have in taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a broken world that really needs it. As we understand our responsibilities as followers of Jesus and as His apostles, we will have a sense of being at war. It indeed is! We have been given authority. We have been equipped. Let’s march in faith. Let’s march in His love and His strength. Onward Christian soldiers!God bless you.