Family Is As Family Does

Gospel Reading Mark 3:19b-35

3:19b Then he went home;

3:20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.

3:21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”

3:22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”

3:23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?

3:24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.

3:25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.

3:26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.

3:27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

3:28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter;

3:29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”-

3:30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

3:31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.

3:32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”

3:33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

3:34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!

3:35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

SERMON: “Family Is As Family Does”

Right now I want you to use your imagination. I want you to visualize your older brother or a slightly older childhood friend. Think of somebody that you played hide and seek with. Someone that you caught lightening bugs with, went fishing with, climbed trees, fought imaginary battles with, and play board or video games with. Have you pictured that person in your mind?

Good!

Now imagine that he has just told you that he has superpowers. He claims that he can leap tall buildings in a single bound, is more powerful than a locomotive, and is faster than a speeding bullet. And he’s serious! He really believes it.

What do you do?

What if he’s brought home some friends that believe him. And they are telling you that they’ve witnessed these amazing feats. What do you do now?

What if he’s announced his abilities on the national news and now there are crowds of people following him everywhere? Some are following him hoping to see him perform some amazing feat. Some are follwing him because they truly believe he can do what he says. And some are following because they want to prove that he’s a fraud.

And now he has shown up at your door looking plumb tuckered out and hungry … but the crowds keep pressing in … wanting more and more from him.

Now what do you do?

This is a very intriguing passage of scripture in the Gospel of Mark.

It is not a long passage.

It does, however, introduce us to some characters and characteristics that are worth noting.

Here is the background.

Jesus was becoming well known as a teacher, a prophet and a healer and the crowds kept following him.

There were folks from other countries that came to hear his messages and to witness the miraculous things that he was doing.

He had tried getting in a boat and crossing the sea. Yet more crowds followed.

He’d climbed up a mountainside and they still came.

It appears that, just when he thought it safe to return to his home, more crowds gathered.

Most scholars believe that this was his home in Capernaum (see Mark 2:1) this is the same home where, at another time, some men tore the roof off so that they could lower their friend down to be healed.

He and his disciples are more than tired … they are nearly physically spent.

Many of us know that feeling. Amen?

As a young father, I was working two fulltime jobs, a daytime job and a nighttime job. At one point I had been awake for nearly one hundred hours before I could get home to sleep. I was so spent that I quite literally would fall asleep walking. I’d kind of slump and then catch myself before I hit the floor. Then I’d praise God for the nap.

At least I had a lunch break at both jobs. I could set an alarm and snooze for a little bit in a back room or break-room. And I had time to gulp down a sandwich and a cup of coffee.

The scriptures say that Jesus didn’t even have time to eat because of the demands of the people following him.

So, he has returned home and his earthly family were also there. And they were concerned. Some were concerned for his health and some were concerned for his sanity. In factI they went out to physically restrain him. Isn’t that amazing?

It reminded me of another family that is mentioned in the scriptures. Mark 9:17-29 tells us this story where Jesus comes upon an argument between a group of people and the Scribes. Jesus asks what is going on.

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him.

But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.”

But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

This poor father had tried everything to protect his child. He had often had to restrain him to keep him from harming himself. That’s what families do … they try to protect each other. Amen?

Family is as family does.

Jesus’ family was attempting to do the same thing. Jesus was on the verge of collapse and yet the people demanded more from him. The family wanted to forcibly bring him into the house and away from the mob.

Again, use your imagination; put yourself in the role of one of Jesus’ brothers or sisters. You grew up in the same household. He was the older son and had learned the carpentry trade from his earthly father. At Joseph’s death, he would have inherited the family business and the responsibilities of the head of household. He was expected to care for his mother and siblings. But now … now he has become an itinerant preacher. And he’s not even ordained by the General Board of Clergy! He has no formal standing with the ruling religious authorities. In fact, the religious authorities are “out to get him.”

So, once again, what do you do about or for this brother who is acting so strangely?

Do you think that Jesus felt a little betrayed by his family … or was he glad that they cared enough to try and protect him? Because at this point, the family didn’t fully understand the extent of Jesus’ earthly mission. He was unable to turn away from doing what the Father had sent him to do.

We know that there is a large crowd that followed Jesus right up to the door of his house.

Among the crowd that had gathered were the religious leaders and teacher of the day, the Scribes.

Verse 22 reads: “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” These were leaders and they were in fear of loosing their positions of power and authority to this man who openly claimed to be the son of God and God the Son.

They came to catch Jesus in the act of some deceit or trickery. When they couldn’t find a way of discounting the miraculous things that Jesus did … they tried to say that he was using the power of the devil to cast out the demons.

Jesus makes fun of their argument by basically saying that the devil casting out the devil is just about the most stupid thing that these students of the scripture could say.

He then says in 3:28, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”- for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Over the years I have heard many interpretations about this “unpardonable sin”. But I found the following statement by >>>>>>>>> that seems to explain it within what we know of Jesus character and mission. He was sent, after all, to be the savior because God does not want to loose a single soul.

He (Jesus) warned them about the eternal consequences of failing to recognize His true identity (vv.28-30) That’s the only sin which cannot be forgiven… I want to make two brief statements about the verse 29 which says, “…but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”
o That statement needs to be understood within context of this larger passage…that Jesus was doing amazing, supernatural things the Jewish leaders could not deny…instead of denying His works, they questioned the power behind His works…they looked at obvious work of God and attributed it to Satan…through Jesus, using Holy Spirit as communicating agent, God was revealing Himself to the world… these people looked directly at the revelation of God and rejected it…that’s the unpardonable sin…rejecting God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ…
o The reason that is unpardonable is self-evident…to say a person who rejects Jesus will not be forgiven is like saying a person who refused liquids will die of thirst…food /starvation…breath / asphyxiation…rejecting Jesus is rejecting our only avenue for forgiveness….as Scripture says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we might be saved.”…to reject Jesus means to die in our sins and that results in eternal separation from God…

The Scribes and Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day. And they should have been the first to embrace this Messiah for whom they had been praying. Over and over again Jesus had told them who he was and what his mission was. They were witnesses to the mighty works he was doing … works that would have been impossible without the power of God working through him. But as John says in his gospel, “He came to his own and his own knew him not.” They should have been acting like family, but they weren’t.

Family is as family does.

Other than the Scribes, who else were following him?

Among the crowd were also those who were just curious. I heard a saying once that nothing draws a crowd of people like a crowd of people. If you see a crowd of people someplace, don’t you stop to see what is going on? I’m sure that some of the people following Jesus around were like that. They were there because they wanted to see what had drawn the crowd in the first place.

Some were also following because of the wondrous signs that he would perform. I mean, really, it must have been a great “show”. Can’t you just see Him on “Israel Has Talent”?

First week he’d turn water into wine. John 2:1-11

Week 2 He’d fill two fishing boats so full of fish that they begin to sink. Luke 5:1-11

Week 3 Walk on water. Mark 6:48-51

Week 4 Heal ten lepers. Luke 17:11-19

Week 5 Raise people from the dead. Matthew 9:18-26, John 11:38-44

And in the semi finals: Raise himself from the dead. 24:5-7

The grand finally: Ascend into the clouds. Mark 16-19

Just try and top THAT!

However, these people were not family.

Some were following because they needed something from him, like the father of the child with a demon. He had come to Jesus just hoping that Jesus could do something. Some were following because they needed a physical healing for themselves or for their friends. When we are hurting, don’t we naturally turn to family for help?

Family is as family does.

Now at this point there were quite a few that he called his disciples.

In Luke chapter 10 verse 1 we read, “After this the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

So we know that these 72 plus the 12 apostles were following.

Very possibly there were hundreds that were following because they truly believed in him and his message.

It was of these folks that Jesus said in 3:35 “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Family is as family does.

Now, I told you earlier that I am a preacher because I expect this message to change you in someway.

We have just heard Jesus say, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

What does that mean to you? Can you claim your kinship with Jesus Christ and God the Father?

John 1:12 & 13 reads “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

To those that have received him I say, “Howdy brothers and sisters.” And ask, “Are following the leading of the Father as an obedient child of God?” If not, here is your chance to recommit yourselves to the family. Remember, family is as family does.

To those who have never received him as your Lord and Savior, I say, “The family awaits your arrival. It is a simple adoption process: Confess your sins to God, ask for His forgiveness, and seek to live a God filled … God directed life.” And we’ll see you at that great family reunion in heaven.

Amen.

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©2020 Thomas E. Williams

“Looking out for each other”

“Looking out for each other” | September 27, 2020

( Guest Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David | Union Park United Methodist Church)Scripture Lesson:Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16;
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known,
that our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels
in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
13 He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
14 In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all night long with a fiery light.
15 He split rocks open in the wilderness,
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
16 He made streams come out of the rock,
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.Philippians 2:1-13

2 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

“Looking out for each other”Let’s begin with a story. (This is from the Panchatantra – a collection of Ancient Indian fables).One hot afternoon, a lion was fast asleep in his den. A mouse entered the lion’s den and jumped all around the lion, and thus woke him up. The lion caught him and was about to kill him. But the little mouse pleaded with the lion to let him go.“I will help you in return some day”. The lion was rather amused to hear this, thinking, “What good can he do me. . .” but he let him go.A few days later, the lion was trapped in a net that was cast by some hunters. He struggled hard to set himself free but, he soon realized he was trapped. He roared with anger.The little mouse heard the lion’s roar, and seeing the lion caught in the net, he started gnawing away at the net at once. The mouse had sharp teeth and he soon freed the lion.Here’s another (this one’s attributed to Rabbi Haim of Romshishok).[Please note that these are NOT stories from the Holy Bible. This is imagination told in the form of a story to illustrate a point.]A man was having a conversation with God one day and said, ‘God , I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.’ God led the holy man to two doors. He opened one of the doors and the man looked in. In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew, which smelled delicious.
The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles, that were strapped to their arms and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful. But because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths. The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, ‘You have seen Hell.’
They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. There was the large round table with the large pot of stew which made the man’s mouth water. The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well nourished and happy, laughing and talking.
The man said, ‘I don’t understand. How is that possible? They have the same conditions. What makes the difference?’
‘It is simple,’ said God. ‘You see they have learned to feed each other!’
Against the background of those two stories, let me read one key verse from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)This Scripture requires us to look beyond ourselves. We seem hard-wired to not do that. Self-preservation is an instinct, and sometimes in order to do that we do quite the opposite of what’s in the interest of others. As Christians, however, we have been seeing that Godly principles to which we must subscribe as His children and saved people, and our values run contrary to what seems to be the ‘proper way’ according to the principles learned and taught in the world.The highest call in a relationship is to give of ourselves to the other, even if there is a cost. It’s in this way that we follow the pattern of Jesus. The United Methodist Church is committed to looking after the interests of others locally as well as globally. In fact, as United Methodists, you are all part of global outreach and service through our apportionments. Our Church also sends its share as apportioned to us, to the United Methodist Church through which it gets sent for many ministries covering outreach, education, disaster relief, rehabilitation, revitalizing congregations, community development, youth ministries, ecumenism, discipleship and many others. Through the apportionment, you are part of global solutions. Our dollar goes where we perhaps cannot go, and makes a difference.The United Methodist Church is called a connectional church because it shares its resources across all levels of the denomination to improve the lives of many through mission and justice work. So, we undertake responsibility not only for maintaining our church and taking care of local community needs in our neighborhood, but we also help alleviate hunger, create jobs and contribute towards helping transform the world to look more like God’s kingdom here on earth.ConclusionApart from being a Christian principle that we are committed to as disciples of Christ, we must also note that it’s becoming even clearer now that the only way we’re going to survive and be blessed is by looking after each other. That is what networking is all about, that’s what collaboration and synergy is all about. But we’re looking at it not from the perspective of material profit, but a spiritual profit of sharing the joy of being human, being the family of God in which we give some, we receive some and either way, keep winning all the time as we’re part of God’s plan used according to His purposes to accomplish His Will. God blesses us when we seek to do His Will.Let’s recommit ourselves to being the arms of Jesus to love and bless others, and let’s receive the joy of being a channel of blessing.Let us pray.Here’s this famous prayer of Francis of Assisi. Let’s pray together -Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.Amen.

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Law Of Sin

First scripture reading:

Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed,

O you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come.

When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions.

Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.

By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.

By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might.

You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.

Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it.

You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.

You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness.

The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy,

the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.

Romans 7:1, 4-6, 8:1-11
Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime?
In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law–indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

SERMONPaul began this section of his letter, starting in charter 7, by identifying his readers. “I am speaking to those who know the law.” Who were those who knew the law? Right, Jews and Jewish Christians. It was important to Paul that his readers knew the Law because he was, metaphorically, about to pull the rug from under their feet.For around fifteen hundred years, the Jews had relied on the Law of Moses to guide them to lives acceptable to God. And now …Well now I’m going to leave Paul and the Roman Jews story hanging for a moment. I am going to give you a very brief synopses of what I believe, my theology of freewill.God created humans to be in a close working relationship with Himself. And so he gave the gift of freewill.Freewill means that we can truly love God by choosing to obey. It also means we humans have the ability to disobey God. I strongly believe that freewill is the only thing which we can truly call our own. And It is the most important gift we can give back to God.Now let’s get back to Paul’s letter.The Law, all 613 laws, was, and is, the center of devout Jewish life. It was how to judge their own actions, the actions of others, and even the desires of God.There were laws covering every aspect of life. The law was the guidebook on how to live a life pleasing to the Lord. If you could put a checkmark next to every law, then you were good-to-go. If not, you knew where to improve. Simple, right?Paul earlier in his letter to the church at Rome wrote, “As it is written:There is no one who is righteous, not even one.'” That is the truth of the human condition. Even if a person were able to cheek off all 613 of the laws on the list, it was not sustainable. We are constantly stumbling and falling off the path that God places before us. So, if even for a second the light of the Lord were to shine upon us, the cloud of our sin would soon overtake us. That is the Law of sin.Sounds hopeless, doesn’t it? If we try you live by the law, it is hopeless. Period.Ah, but hear the good news: when we accept Jesus as Lord and saviour, we also accept that our old sinful nature died. The Law of Moses ceased to have control over us, because we have become something new. (2 Cor. 5:17) “You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.Therefore, brothers and sisters I Christ, we must live as the Spirit directs us. What we are not to do is to live as our self-directed nature guides us. If you live the way your self-directed nature directs, we will surely be eternally separated from God. But if by the power of God’s Spirit we quit doing the sinful things that your bodies desire, we will live eternally. We who allow the Spirit of God to guide us are God’s children. God’s children are not subject to the Law of Sin but the Law of Life Eternal.Go and sin no more. Amen.

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“Managing differences,

“Managing differences,

September 13, 2020

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

Scripture Lesson:

Psalm 122;

I was glad when they said to me,

“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

2 Our feet are standing

within your gates, O Jerusalem.

3 Jerusalem—built as a city

that is bound firmly together.

4 To it the tribes go up,

the tribes of the Lord,

as was decreed for Israel,

to give thanks to the name of the Lord.

5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up,

the thrones of the house of David.

6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

“May they prosper who love you.

7 Peace be within your walls,

and security within your towers.”

8 For the sake of my relatives and friends

I will say, “Peace be within you.”

9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,

I will seek your good.

Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith,[a] but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord[b] is able to make them stand.

5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?[d] For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,

and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Managing Differences

We all have our differences. Our meditation today leads us in the direction of understanding that differences should not be feared or avoided but accepted and handled with love.

In the early church also, sometimes Christians disagreed with each other and created problems for one another. In Romans 14:1—15:13, Paul addresses this issue. First, he deals with differences of opinion regarding rules about food and days (14:1-12). He then asks Christians not to cause one another to stumble (14:13-23). He then tells them to focus on pleasing the other person instead of themselves (15:1-6). Finally, he makes it clear that the Gospel is for Jews and Gentiles alike (15:7-13).

Paul is more concerned about the manner in which we deal with differences than about the fact that we have differences. That is very significant especially as we know that we are not expected to agree on every issue, but we are called to love one another.

Paul begins by saying that we are to welcome the ‘weak in faith’. Paul is talking about the person whose faith in Christ requires additions—observance of dietary restrictions or other rules.

There are basically two reasons why we may be considered 4weak in faith’.

  • We have not yet discovered the meaning of Christian freedom; we are at heart still legalists, and see Christianity as a thing of rules and regulations. Paul addresses this in Gal 5:1-6 –

  • For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You w/io want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

  • We may believe that we can gain God’s favour by doing certain things and abstaining from others. Basically we may still be trying to earn a right relationship with God, and have not yet accepted the way of grace.

Of course, that is not to say that we can use our freedom wrongly.

See Gal 5:13a For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence…

Does that mean that we shouldn’t care about how we live and what we do? Certainly not. Ifs just that the good things we try to do should actually be a response to His Grace and Gift of Salvation rather than a way to earn it.

That was to get a clearer understanding about Paul s perspective on the differences he saw in people then which stemmed from this basic understanding. Today, some issues have changed in form, other have been added to the list that cause differences in us.

As I see, basically our responses to these differences are on this scale (this is just my way of scaling it, there may be others, but this gives us a general idea of the variety of responses and how we position ourselves):

Intolerance: The dictionary defines it as “unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behavior that differ from one’s own.” This is obviously an actively negative response of intolerance that leads to more problems than solve any. We have an important pointer to why we should be tolerant (cut slack for people or be more lenient) as we look at the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. It talks about the King having pity and forgiving his slave his dues because he couldn*t pay. The forgiven slave however did not forgive the dues owed to him by a fellow slave. When the king came to know of this what happened? Read from Matthew 18:32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you? And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.

The expectation is to pass on that mercy and grace and love and forgiveness and all that we ve received and benefited from (even though we were unworthy) to others. It’s so important that it s part of the crux (and one of the basic tenets) of Christianity: Love God and Love people which is the greatest commandment.

Indifference: Moving up the scale, we have a response of indifference where we actively or passively try to dissociate from the person and situation of potential disagreement.

Tolerance: Moving further up the scale we have a step of positive response that is tolerance where we are passively accepting of another view and we open the possibilities for coexisting. Ifs better than intolerance and indifference, but we*re still not there yet as God’s people.

Love: Moving even further we have a response that is actively positive. That is love. It is in having this kind of attitude and response of love and acceptance that we are actively trying to seek to understand another point of view, extending ourselves in love and acceptance that clearly shows a focus on the other person. This can include dialog, communication, studying together, creating safe spaces, collaboration and so on. That is where Paul wants to take us in our understanding as mature, fruit-bearing Christians that bring honor to God.

There is another parameter that we must have as we are learning to deal with the differences we come up against. We need to understand the difference we have can be put in categories of what is essential and what is not essential.

In his book “Don’t sweat the small stuff’, Dr. Richard Carlson’s premise is that: Often we allow ourselves to get all worked up about things that, upon closer examination, aren’t really that big a deal. We focus on little problems and concerns and blow them way out of proportion… So many people spend so much of their life energy “sweating the small stuff” that they completely lose touch with the magic and beauty of life.

The same thing can happen in our Christian walk too. We may miss the joy of God’s presence, fellowship with others, growth and even opportunities to honor God when we sometimes expend So, our energies in non-essential confrontations and in pursuing something that may not be so fruitful after all.

Making that differentiation between the essential and the non-essential can also help us to know that a different response is needed for different cases. “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity!” (This quote is often attributed to Augustine from the fourth century, or it may be from the writings of German Lutheran theologian, Rupertus Meldenius, of the early seventeenth century.) It sums up how we need to process the differences we’re faced with.

The essentials are doctrines and convictions. And the heart of the gospel: Salvation by Grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the exclusivity of the Gospel, All-sufficiency of the Work of Christ for salvation, love and forgiveness, and so on. We must be united on these essential things.

The non-essentials are all other things: Opinions on food and drink and special days; views on schooling our children: home school, public school, Christian school; The type of car or house we own; How to find a spouse: Should we date or court? What about arranged marriages? Ways and practices of worship: cover the head while praying or not, raise hands or not, etc.

There are matters of practice, culture, local awareness and sensibilities, or even indigenous theologies and so on that would be in this category. We should have an attitude of liberty, freedom and mutual respect.

And then in all things, essentials and non-essentials, we should have charity. We should Love. If we have love, then we won t condemn or criticize. On the contrary, we would welcome and accept one another, seeking to understand and love.

“ln essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity!”

This is easier said than done. Sometimes we are faced with very difficult questions, differences, and divisive issues. We have to keep trying to do what honors God and brings glory to His name. The bottom line is: We need to be guided always by Love and Grace.

There s a beautiful hymn that we’ll be singing today. It says:

Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us…

God bless us with wisdom and love to respond always with grace and humility. Amen.

"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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