Sin Happens – So Does Forgiveness

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

Sin Happens

So Does Forgiveness

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

Originally published Monday, August 15, 2011

“ 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.

Good Man or Godly Man?

First Scripture: Joshua 1:7-8
Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.

  • Sermon “Good Man or Godly Man?”

For those who may not know me. Or know me only as Santa, My other name is Tom Williams. I’ll be your sermonizer today.

So, thanks for letting me lead a conversation with you.

Let us pray

Lord, I invite you into this service. Take control. Open my mouth to speak your words.

Open their ears so that, no matter what I say, they will hear you speaking to them. Amen.

Hear these words from

Philippians 3:5-11

(I, Paul, was) circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ,

the righteousness from God based on faith.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,

if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

I have a problem y’all. If you have attended church for a while you have heard this section of scripture read and preached on before … several times.

But, if each of you promise to pay attention to the sermon, I’ll do my best, with the Spirit’s guidance, to give you something new to chew on. Okay?

As Jesus often did,

I’ll start with a story:

A man, tattered and torn, enters the church doors. He’s dirty and disheveled with a back bent under with the weight of the world.

His eyes and cheeks sunken from the years of abuse of alcohol, drugs, and fleshly desires. He hasn’t eaten in days. The money, for which he has panhandled, has been spent on his last fix.

Those drugs are now decaying in his system and he is sick beyond imagination.

This wretched man, holding himself upright by leaning along the wall, makes his way past the glares and stares of the neatly dressed people gathered in the foyer and enters the sanctuary.

Not wanting to be more of a spectacle than he already is, he looks for a spot near the back.

But since this was a normal church, on a normal Sunday…

… all the rear pews were already filled,

so he just slides down the back wall, to sit crosslegged on the floor, stooped over, and head in hands.

(You still with me?

Good!)

Another man enters the church. His head is held high. He strides purposefully into the foyer. He greets people by name, shaking their hands and clapping them on the back.

He is smartly dressed, as befitting his station in the community. He is a business man with income in the mid to upper brackets.

He was raised in the church and is on several of its committees. He is faithful with his donations. He is happy to push a mower, pound a nail, or paint a wall in and around the church.

He is a good husband and father who habitually attends worship service, most Sundays, unless away on vacation or business.

He enters the sanctuary and sees the man slumped to the floor. He looks around and sees all eyes are upon him.

(Big drum roll here … we are nearing the BIG FINISH. I hope y’all haven’t jumped ahead in the story)

He walks to the man on the floor and extends his hands to help him to his feet. Then he guides him to his pew, … the same pew where he and his family have sat for years.

Y’all got the picture in your head?

Can you imagine this happening in this church?

I can.

Now, What do you think,

which of these two men is to be pitied the most?

Some might say the man, who has been called “a waste of skin.”

Certainly it couldn’t be the church goer, for he clearly is a good man. Right?

Now, which is most in need of salvation?

Okay, Okay, that was a trick question. Both of them

… and all of us are in need of salvation.

But here comes the twist … Jesus’s parables all had a twist … and so does this one.

Though the tattered man is so far down that he can sink no lower, he stumbled into this holy place knowing he needs God.

Whereas the good man has never felt the need for God’s salvation. He has always been a good man.

He pays his dues to the church and works joyfully for the church.

There is a problem here, he does it for the church … not for the Lord he does it for the recognition of his fellow church goers.

Having been raised in the church, he has adopted the language, customs, and world view of the church.

He thinks he has become a Christian by being a good man.

Though he calls himself a Christian, he has never felt the need to face his own sinfulness and ask for forgiveness.

Nor has he given the control his life over to God. To make Jesus both Savior and Lord of his life.

This is were Saul found himself. Let’s hear what he wrote.

As Paul’s mostly Jewish Christian listeners heard the letter read to the congregation in Philippi, I can almost see them smiling and nodding in agreement with what this good Jewish man had just said.

  • circumcised on the eighth day (circumcision was a token of the covenant made by God with Abraham and his descendants an “everlasting covenant”(Genesis 17:13 “))

  • Descendant of Israel (the patriarch also know as Jacob, who wrestled with God)

  • From the tribe of Benjamin (Benjamin was the last-born of Jacob’s twelve sons. He was the progenitor of the Israelite Tribe of Benjamin.)

  • Paul was a pure-blooded Hebrew (The Talmud holds that a marriage between a Jew and a non Jew is both prohibited and also does not constitute a marriage under Jewish law. However, Paul’s lineage was pure)

  • He was a Pharisee (The Pharisees were a strict social and religious movement in Judaism which asserted that God could and should be worshipped even away from the Temple and outside Jerusalem. To the Pharisees, worship consisted not in bloody sacrifices — the practice of the Temple priests — but in prayer and in the study of and adherence to God’s law.)

  • Enthusiasticly he followed the strictest laws (The Pharisees’ ultra strict interpretation of the law is one of the things that Jesus railed against, calling them blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. He also accused them of giving a tenth of their spices (as a tithe), but of neglecting the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness)

  • Saul was perfect in keeping Jewish laws (he had done as the prophet Joshua had said to do in the scripture that we read a few moments ago, “be careful to do according to … all the law . Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”) (Joshua 1:7-15 ESV)

Paul, when he was still called Saul, was assured of the promise of the Law. Obey the Law “For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

Notice that the only thing that the Law can promise is,

if … do not let that tiny word IF go un-noticed.

The promise of the Law was conditional IF you do ALL that the Law commands, THEN life on this world will be great for you.

So Saul was perfect, when it came to winning God’s approval by keeping Jewish laws and expected to profit and succeed as promised.

It wasn’t until he had a very personal, dramatic, life-changing encounter with the risen Jesus, that he learned that whatever rewards he might treasure on earth, paled in compairence with rewards he could expect in heaven.

Perhaps in some of his attacks on Christians, he came across the teaching of Jesus “Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal.

Though Paul had done all that he … humanly … could to win God’s approval, by keeping Jewish laws, he realized that it was all … I can’t say that word in church, S.H.I.T. Yes, that is the literal translation of what he wrote.

To not offend modern readers, nicer words were used to translate: loss, trash, garbage, refuse, worthless or dung.

I’m sorry, but by “cleaning” the language, we lose the power of Paul’s intent. He intended his readers to be shocked by his comparison.

Paul wrote, reminding his readers how perfect he was under the law.

And then … and then, he wrote the most unimaginable thing, his whole life and accomplishments were all … all … EXCREMENT compared to life in Jesus the Christ. He was glad to give it all away.

As a pure-blood Hebrew and as a zealous follower of the strictest interpretation of the Jewish laws, Saul had sought to win God’s approval. But it didn’t work. It couldn’t work.

Saul, now going by his Greek (gentile) name, Paul, wrote to his fellow Jews, so that they might also understand the futility of the Law.

The Law can not save. It can only condemn. It can only shine a light on our failure to be righteous before God.

But Jesus came to us, while we were still law breakers and at war with God.

God was trying to bring us into his perfect will, while we were still willfully going our own way.

That was when Jesus came and bought our eternal life through his death. His Holy blood covers our sins and purifies them in God’s sight.

Before I gave my life to Jesus, I was a good man, as the world judges men. I abided by the laws of man … most of the time. And as far as the laws of God, I hadn’t broken any of the BIG ones.

But that’s the problem, you see, there aren’t big laws and small laws. There is only THE Law. To have broken one law is to be guilty of them all.

Yes, I was a good man, but I wasn’t a godly man. I may have been upright but I was far from righteous. My own goodness kept me from seeing my need for salvation.

God’s truth reveals that all need saving, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Saul also knew that he was a good man, as the world judges men.

He was firm in his conviction that he was right in judgement.

He was so assured of his righteousness that he actively sought to punish those who believed differently.

And then … and then … he meet Jesus and discovered his righteousness was a foul and disgusting thing in God’s sight. His only hope lay in the grace offered by Jesus Christ.

And, friends, my only hope, and your only hope lies in the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

This is the life application part of the service. Thinking back to the parable, where did you see yourself?

  1. The world weary man who came to church seeking God’s forgiveness?

  2. The man so good that he never felt the need for God’s forgiveness?

  3. Or were you part of the congregation who sat in judgement over these two men and found one welcome in the church and one not?

  4. Or have you acknowledged to God that all your earthly achievements are nothing but … well, you know.

Or have you said to God, “I am no longer my own. I am yours, Lord, to do with as you please. All I have called my own are now yours. All I may ever have, will ever and always belong to you Lord.”?

Pray with me now.

God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away.

Lord, I have heard that you are a merciful God, and have designated that your Son Jesus Christ should be the Savior of the world;

and moreover, that you are willing to give him even to such a poor sinner as I am—and I am a sinner indeed. Lord, take therefore this opportunity, and magnify your grace in the salvation of my soul, through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  • “Apostle’s Creed”

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Was crucified, dead and buried;

The third day he rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,

And sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

The holy catholic church,

The communion of saints,

The forgiveness of sins,

The resurrection of the body,

And the life everlasting. Amen.

  • Prayers of the People

Tom

Father, in this time of social unrest I ask your prayers for peace; for goodwill among people and nations.

That our leaders be your followers.

I pray for your true justice and the peace which can only come from you.

I pray for the poor, the sick (of whom there are many), the hungry, the

oppressed, and those in prison (whether of stone and steal, or of their own making through sin or bad life choices).

I pray for those in any need or trouble, that they may be lead to your path.

I ask your prayers for all who seek God, for a deeper knowledge of him. I pray that they may find and be found by you.

I ask prayers for the departed, for those who have died, that their loved ones may find comfort in your loving arms.

These things we ask in the name of Jesus who taught his followers to pray in this manner …

  • Lord’s prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom com,

Thy will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, Forever. Amen.

  • Benediction.

In the wesleyan tradition, I will dismiss us with prayer for you and for me.

Lord, we are no longer our own, but Yours.

Put us to what you will, rank us with whom you will.

Put us to doing, put us to suffering.

Let us be employed by you

or laid aside for you,

Exalted for you or brought low for you.

Let us be full, let us be empty.

Let us have all things, let us have nothing.

We freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, O Glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

You are ours, and we are yours. So be it.

And the covenant which we have made on earth,

Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen. Go in peace.

Good Man or Godly Man?

Good Man or Godly Man?

Philippians 3:5-11

(Paul wrote) I was circumcised on the eighth day. I’m a descendant of Israel. I’m from the tribe of Benjamin. I’m a pure-blooded Hebrew. When it comes to living up to standards, I was a Pharisee. When it comes to being enthusiastic, I was a persecutor of the church. When it comes to winning God’s approval by keeping Jewish laws, I was perfect. These things that I once considered valuable, I now consider worthless for Christ. It’s far more than that! I consider everything else worthless because I’m much better off knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. It’s because of him that I think of everything as worthless. I threw it all away in order to gain Christ and to have a relationship with him. This means that I didn’t receive God’s approval by obeying his laws. The opposite is true! I have God’s approval through faith in Christ. This is the approval that comes from God and is based on faith 10. that knows Christ. Faith knows the power that his coming back to life gives and what it means to share his suffering. In this way I’m becoming like him in his death, with the confidence that I’ll come back to life from the dead.

A modern parable:

A man, tattered and torn, enters the church doors. He’s dirty and disheveled with a back bent under with the weight of the world. His eyes and cheeks sunken from the years of abuse of alcohol, drugs, and fleshly desires. He hasn’t eaten in days. The money, for which he has panhandled,, has been spent on his last fix.

Those drugs are now decaying in his system and he is sick beyond imagination. Holding himself upright by sliding along the wall, he makes his way past the glares and stares of the neatly dressed people congregated in the foyer and enters the sanctuary. All the rear pews are already filled, so he he just slides down the back wall, to sit crosslegged and stooped over, head in hands.

Another man enters the church. His head is held high. He strides purposefully into the foyer. He greets people by name, shaking their hands and clapping them on the back. He is smartly dressed, as befitting his station in the community. He is a business man with income in the mid to upper brackets. He was raised in the church and is on several of its committees. He is a good husband and father who habitually attends worship service most Sundays, unless away on vacation or business.

He enters the sanctuary and sees the man slumped to the floor. He looks around and sees all eyes are upon him. He walks to the man on the floor and extends his hands to help him to his feet. The He guides him to his pew, the same pew where he and his family has sat for years.

What do you think, which of these two men is to be pitied the most?

Some might say the man, who has been called ” a waste of human flesh.” Certainly not the church goer, for he clearly is a good man.

Though the tattered man is so far down that he can sink no lower, he stumbled into this holy place knowing he needs God.

The good man’s downfall is that has never felt the need for God’s salvation. Having been raised in the church, the has adopted the language, customs, and world view of the church. Though he calls himself a Christian, he has never accepted his own sinfulness and asked for forgiveness. He has never given the control his life over to God making him truly Lord of his life.

(Disclaimer: I am going to repeat a word here that Saint Paul used and for the same reason … the shock value.)

As Paul’s Jewish listeners heard the letter to the congregation in Philippi, I can almost see them smiling and nodding in agreement with what this good Jewish man had just said.

  • circumcised on the eighth day (circumcision was a token of the covenant made by God with Abraham and his descendants an “everlasting covenant”(Genesis 17:13 “))

  • Descendant of Israel (the patriarch also know as Jacob, who wrestled with God)

  • From the tribe of Benjamin (Benjamin was the last-born of Jacob’s twelve sons. He was the progenitor of the Israelite Tribe of Benjamin.)

  • A pure-blooded Hebrew (The Talmud holds that a marriage between a Jew and a non Jew is both prohibited and also does not constitute a marriage under Jewish law. However, Paul’s lineage was pure)

  • A Pharisee (The Pharisees were a strict social and religious movement in Judaism which asserted that God could and should be worshipped even away from the Temple and outside Jerusalem. To the Pharisees, worship consisted not in bloody sacrifices — the practice of the Temple priests — but in prayer and in the study of God’s law.)

  • Enthusiastic followed the strictest laws (Their ultra strict interpretation of the law is one of the things that Jesus railed against , calling them blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. He also accused them of giving a tenth of their spices (as a tithe), but of neglecting the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness)

  • Perfect in keeping Jewish laws (Saul had done as the prophet Joshua had said to do, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to … all the law … that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”) (Joshua 1:7-15 ESV)

Saul was assured of the promise of the Law. Obey the Law “For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Notice that all the Law can promised is that if … do not let that tiny word IF go un-noticed. The promise of the Law was conditional IF you do ALL that the Law commands, THEN life on this world will be great for you.

So Saul was perfect, when it came to winning God’s approval by keeping Jewish laws and expected to profit and succeed as promised.

It wasn’t until he had a very personal, dramatic, life-changing encounter with the risen Jesus, that he learned that whatever rewards he might treasure on earth, paled in comparisons with rewards he could expect in heaven.

Perhaps in some of his attacks on Christians, he came across the teaching of Jesus “Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal. but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal;

Though Saul had done all that he humanly could to win God’s approval, by keeping Jewish laws, he realized that it was all shit. Yes, that is the literal translation of what he wrote, shit. To not offend modern readers, nicer words were used: loss, trash, garbage, refuse, worthless or dung.

I’m sorry, but by “cleaning” the language, we lose the power of Paul’s intent. He intended his readers to be shocked by his comparison.

Paul wrote, reminding his Jewish readers how perfect he was under the law. And then … and then, he wrote the most unimaginable thing, his whole life and accomplishments were all shit compared to life in Jesus the Christ. He was glad to give it all away.

As a pure-blood Hebrew and as a zealous follower of the strictest interpretation of the Jewish laws, Saul had sought to win God’s approval. But it didn’t work. It couldn’t work.

Saul, now going by his Greek (gentile) name, Paul wrote to his fellow Jews, so that they might also understand the futility of the Law. The Law can not save. It can only condemn. It can only shine a light on our failure to be righteous before God.

But Jesus came to us, while we were still law breakers and at war with God. God was trying to bring us into his perfect will, while we were still willfully going our own way. That was when Jesus came and bought our eternal life through his death. His Holy blood covers our sins and purifies them in God’s sight.

Before I gave my life to Jesus, I was a good man, as the world judges men. I abided by the laws of man … most of the time. And as far as the laws of God, I hadn’t broken any of the BIG ones.

But that’s the problem, you see, there aren’t big laws and small laws. There is only THE Law. To have broken one law is to be guilty of them all.

Yes, I was a good man, but I wasn’t a godly man. I may have been upright but I was far from righteous. My own goodness kept me from seeing my need for salvation.

God’s truth reveals that all need saving, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Paul knew that he was a good man, as the world judges men. And he felt no need for salvation. He was firm in his conviction that he was right in the sight of God. He was so assured of his righteousness that he actively sought to punish those who believed differently.

And then he meet Jesus and discovered his righteousness was a foul and disgusting thing in God’s sight. His only hope lay in the grace offered by Jesus Christ.

And, friends, my only hope, and your only hope lies in the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Pray with me now.

God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away.

Lord, I have heard that you are a merciful God, and have designated that your Son Jesus Christ should be the Savior of the world;

and moreover, that you are willing to give him even to such a poor sinner as I am—and I am a sinner indeed. Lord, take therefore this opportunity, and magnify your grace in the salvation of my soul, through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

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“The Family of God”

The Family of God” | June 7, 2020

(Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David) Union Park UMC, Des Moines, Iowa

Scripture Lessons:

Psalms 8

Unto the end. For the oil and wine presses. A Psalm of David. O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is your name throughout all the earth! For your magnificence is elevated above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants, you have perfected praise, because of your enemies, so that you may destroy the enemy and the revenger. For I will behold your heavens, the works of your fingers: the moon and the stars, which you have founded. What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you visit him? You reduced him to a little less than the Angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, and you have set him over the works of your hands. You have subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and in addition: the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, which pass through the paths of the sea. O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is your name throughout all the earth!

O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is your name throughout all the earth! For your magnificence is elevated above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants, you have perfected praise, because of your enemies, so that you may destroy the enemy and the revenger. For I will behold your heavens, the works of your fingers: the moon and the stars, which you have founded. What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you visit him? You reduced him to a little less than the Angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, and you have set him over the works of your hands. You have subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and in addition: the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, which pass through the paths of the sea. O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is your name throughout all the earth!

Matthew 28:16-20

Now the eleven disciples went on to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And, seeing him, they worshipped him, but certain ones doubted. And Jesus, drawing near, spoke to them, saying: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have ever commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the consummation of the age.”

Today is Trinity Sunday. It brings us face to face with a mystery of God which makes us realize really how finite our understanding is. We have stretched our minds to the fullest to understand the Trinity. We have several examples and analogies, but they all fall short of explaining exactly how the Three Persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God. Three in One and One in Three – The One Triune God.

“To meditate on the three Persons of the Godhead is to walk in thought through the garden eastward in Eden and to tread on holy ground. Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.” –A.W. Tozer.

Indeed, we must realize that, with our finite little understanding, we cannot understand all things. That is where faith comes in. Like Augustine said, “The limits of our reason make faith a necessity”. If we presume to know or understand all the mysteries of God, it may be almost arrogant of us as human beings – too presumptuous for our own good. We have to be humble enough to realize and accept that we are too small to understand God and His vastness – the vastness and depth of His Love, His Mind, His Plans, His Ways. We have to let God be God. (Read Romans 9:13ff). We have already read Psalm 8 as one of our Scripture lessons. Verse 4 says, “What is man (human being) that you are mindful of him?”. We are nothing in front of the vastness and beauty of God’s awesome creation.

While we may not have a clear understanding of some doctrines, we must not despair because we can know, and do know, what is sufficient for us to understand His Love, to respond to His Love, to care for His creation which includes us all, and so on.

Some things however, have been clearly revealed and spelled out for us. Like the Great Commission that we’re studying this morning. As we focus on this passage, I want to look at 2 important principles or concepts that emerge from here that are important to understand as we seek to ‘do mission’.

1. Disciple -making presumes love for God and love for people. This is basic. Disciple making is helping people to trust and follow Jesus. Why would we want people to have the benefit of God’s Love if we didn’t care for them and also want them to be saved? If you didn’t love God, why would you want His Kingdom to grow? These are indicative of our love for God and for people that is at the very root of disciple-making.

The imperative command of Jesus is “Make disciples”. How we do it is by going, baptizing (joining the family of God) and teaching (not just academic or intellectual instruction, but taught to the point of responding to God in obedience).

Sometimes, an ‘empire’ or ‘colonial’ mindset that has shaped our environment and us, or continues to influence us, gives us an understanding of doing things by way of an ‘imperial conquest’.

History bears evidence of the failures of such wrong understanding of disciple making. Such efforts can result in people becoming Christians by religion, but not by relationship with Christ. And that would be proselytizing, not disciple-making.

That is why it is important to understand that disciple-making has within it the objective and method of love.

Before the Great Commission, Jesus gave his disciples (us) the Great Commandment “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27).

Love needs to be expressed through helping, caring, sharing, encouraging, protecting, forgiving, sacrificing, trusting and so on.

As we focus on the growth of God’s Kingdom, we could start with these simple acts of love and kindness that prepare the way for disciples to be made.

2. We are called to reach all people. The Great Commission clearly tells us to “Make disciples of all nations” (Italics mine).

We have already clarified what ‘making disciples’ entails. It is chiefly loving people and leading them to respond to God whereby they become part of God’s family (leading to other things in that relationship like discipleship, obedience, and so on).

The word translated ‘nations’ in Matthew 28:19 comes from the word ‘ethnos’ which means “a race (as of the same habit), that is, a tribe; specifically a foreign (non-Jewish) one (usually by implication pagan): – Gentile, heathen, nation, people”.

Scholars say that, perhaps ‘people groups’ comes closest to describing what ‘nations’ is trying to convey. It means every people group, language group and so on.

The crux of the concept is inclusivity. Sometimes we tend to become exclusive, in -grown, cliquish, and unloving. We forget that we’re not alone, that there are other people around us who have needs too, sometimes greater than our own. And perhaps we shy away because we are afraid or just plain uncomfortable. We need to become intentional about reaching out to others.

There are always going to be differences amongst people – race, color, ethnicity, language and so on. We can keep slicing our society on the basis of differences and find that we have slices that are so thin that they cannot stand by themselves. We have to reach out across our differences – reaching out to share, to help, to love, to make disciples.

Have you heard the Disneyland song It’s a small world (listen to it on YouTube)? It was created for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The composer of the song, Richard Sherman composed this just after the Cuban missile crisis. It focuses on tolerance, empathy and kindness.

1. It’s a world of laughter A world of tears It’s a world of hopes And a world of fears

There’s so much that we share That it’s time we’re aware It’s a small world after all It’s a small world after all It’s a small world after all It’s a small world after all It’s a small, small world

2. T here is just one moon And one golden sun And a smile means Friendship to ev’ryone Though the mountains divide And the oceans are wide It’s a small world after all.

( Source: Musixmatch, Songwriters: Richard Sherman / Robert Sherman
Musixmatch, Songwriters: Richard Sherman / Robert Sherman
It’s a Small World (It’s a Small World) lyrics © Wonderland Music Co. Inc., Wonderland Music Co. Inc., Wonderland Music Company Inc., Wonderland Music Company Inc, Wonderland Music Co., Inc., Kobalt Music Pub America I Obo Hardmonic Music)

Yes, it’s a small world after all. And I might add, it’s a short life after all!

Have we been guilty of writing some people off? Do we presume for some people to not deserve God’s love? We’re given the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. We’re called to reach out, not in our own strength and authority but that of our Triune God. As we uphold and honor the mystery of God’s Being, let’s continue to do faithfully what we’re called to do – to go, to preach, to teach, to love, to bless and be blessed.

May God help us to see the opportunities we have in front of us for the growth of His Kingdom. May God strengthen us to reach out and touch the lives of all who come our way.

Memorial Day

For most people, Memorial Day is just another flag waving holiday, like the 4th of July, Flag Day, and Labor Day.

Though this year is different with social distancing, in most years:

  • It marks the beginning of summer. Can I get a hallelujah?

  • It’s the weekend of the Indy 500.

  • School’s out. Many have mixed emotions about that, Right?

  • The pools open. Even if the weather is cold enough to turn your lips blue, we have to at least dip our toes in the pool.

  • It provides the first real chance for picnics, grilling, and of course an outing to Cutty’s. How about another hallelujah?

Memorial day hasn’t always been that way though.

Memorial Day grew out of the human need to remember where we have been. The needed to remember is why we save photos, letters, trophies, odd bits of ribbon, and a million other things.

What things are in your treasure collection?

We save the past to help us gain a better view of the where we’ve been. Only then can we figure out where we are going.

The cherished memories of a nation, a town, a church, a family, or an individual provide the values and dream that one generation passes on to the next.

Forgetting to share with the next generation means dropping the torch, as does failing tho learn from the party generations. We as a nation have often forgotten the lessons of the past and repeated the same mistakes once again. Amen?

One of the lessons we have failed to learn is the human cost of war. It is estimated that 1,255,500 US military personnel have died on active duty, including the 620,000 during the civil war..

This is Memorial Day weekend the time set aside to remember those who died during active military service.

Memorial Day unofficially begun during the Civil War when some concerned women decided to decorate the graves of those who had bravely given their lives in that destructive civil conflict between the states.

I’m sure similar thoughts were on the mind of President Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863 as he made his way to a Pennsylvania battlefield.

He feared that he might well be the very last President of the UNITED States of America.

He had good reason for that fear. The country teetered on the brink of self-destruction. It could easily have become un-united and only a confederation of allied but separate countries.

The ceremony that afternoon was to dedicate the site of a cemetery for the over 3,500 union soldiers killed at Gettysburg in the three-day battle the previous July. However the toll was much higher when the loss of Confederate soldiers is added in. Over forty thousand American soldiers died in or because of wounds suffered in that battle.

Though it is short, his speech that day is well remembered. He said,”

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground.

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—

that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln’s remarks provided the seedbed for what would become Memorial Day. Memorial day was set up to honor, as Lincoln said, those brave men who struggled and gave their last full measure of devotion t li. Over the years, many memorials have been erected to honor a person or persons who have died.

I have visited the memorials and cemeteries in and around Washington D.C. The row upon row of white crosses standing in military precision at the Arlington National Cemetery was an overwhelming sight.

At the Vietnam Memorial, as I was standing and reading the names of those killed, I suddenly noticed my reflection in the polished black marble. I have no words to describe the flood of emotions that came over me. Though I was never in combat, I did serve in the army during that war.

What memorials have you visited? What was your reaction?

This is a worship service so let us think for a moment of the memorials to Jesus the Christ.

What memorials to Jesus Christ do we have? In a way, every cross and church building is a memorial to him. But the memorial that comes most readily to my mind is the communion meal where we are commanded to “Do this in remembrance of me.”

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

  • Remember the miracles that he did. What miracles do you remember?

  • Remember His lessons on how to live. What life lessons have you learned?

  • Remember His Descriptions of Heaven. Tell me what heaven is like

  • Remember His Promises. What promises have you claimed? “Where I am you will be also. I’ll be with you until the end of the age. I’ll send a helper, the Holy Spirit

  • Remember His betrayal by the religious authorities. Do you remember the illegal night time “trial” with false witnesses?

  • Remember the betrayal by his closest friends. Who betrayed him? Judas, of course, but all of them betrayed him by abandoning him. And to keep us from becoming smug, we are reminded that “all people have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory.” (Romans 3:23)

  • Remember the humiliation of his beatings, the path through the streets with the weight of the cross, the mocking crown of thorns, the nails that pierced His flesh.

  • Remember the agonizing effort it took for him to speak His few words from the cross. Because of the cruel nature of the crucifixion most prisoners died of asphyxiation (couldn’t breathe). And yet, Christ pushed with his nail pierced feet and pulled with his nail pierced hands to raise himself enough to breathe out some important words,

  • Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do

  • Today you will be with me in paradise

  • Behold your son: behold your mother

  • My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

  • I thirst

  • It is finished

  • Father, into your hands I commit my spirit

  • Remember His triumph over the grave.

  • Remember His final words … the last commandment to His followers after the resurrection and just before he ascended into heaven. “So wherever you go in the world, tell everyone the Good News

  • And always remember that He did all of it for YOU and me!

    Amen.

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© 2020 Thomas E. Williams

Sheep and Shepherds

John 10:1-16

1. “I can guarantee this truth: The person who doesn’t enter

the sheep pen through the gate

but climbs in somewhere else

is a thief or a robber. 2. But the

one who enters through the

gate is the shepherd. 3. The

gatekeeper opens the gate for

him, and the sheep respond to

his voice. He calls his sheep by

name and leads them out of

the pen. 4. After he has

brought out all his sheep, he

walks ahead of them. The

sheep follow him because they

recognize his voice. 5. They

won’t follow a stranger.

Instead, they will run away

from a stranger because they

don’t recognize his voice.”

The person who doesn’t enter

the sheep pen through the gate

but climbs in somewhere else

is a thief or a robber. 2. But the

one who enters through the

gate is the shepherd. 3. The

gatekeeper opens the gate for

him, and the sheep respond to

his voice. He calls his sheep by

name and leads them out of

the pen. 4. After he has

brought out all his sheep, he

walks ahead of them. The

sheep follow him because they

recognize his voice. 5. They

won’t follow a stranger.

Instead, they will run away

from a stranger because they

don’t recognize his voice.”
6. Jesus used this illustration as

he talked to the people, but

they didn’t understand what

he meant. 7. Jesus emphasized,
“I can guarantee this truth: I

am the gate for the sheep. 8.

All who came before I did

were thieves or robbers.

However, the sheep didn’t

respond to them. 9. I am the

gate. Those who enter the

sheep pen through me will be

saved. They will go in and out

of the sheep pen and find food.

10. A thief comes to steal, kill,

and destroy. But I came so that

my sheep will have life and so

that they will have everything

they need. 11. “I am the good

shepherd. The good shepherd

gives his life for the sheep. 12.

A hired hand isn’t a shepherd

and doesn’t own the sheep.

When he sees a wolf coming,

he abandons the sheep and

quickly runs away. So the wolf

drags the sheep away and

scatters the flock. 13. The hired

hand is concerned about what

he’s going to get paid and not

about the sheep. 14. “I am the

good shepherd. I know my

sheep as the Father knows me.

My sheep know me as I know

the Father. 15. So I give my life

for my sheep. 16. I also have

other sheep that are not from

this pen. I must lead them.

They, too, will respond to my

voice. So they will be one flock

with one shepherd.

Sheep and Shepherds

I don’t know much about sheep and I’ve never been a

shepherd. I grew up in Iowa,

where agriculture is king. I’d

venture a guess that most of

the land is in some row-crop

like corn and soybeans. But

there are plenty of farms and

corporate farms with cattle,

both beef and dairy. Oh yes,

hogs! “Smells like money.” 2nd

in the nation in hogs!

Chickens, layers and fryers are

everywhere on small scales

and large factory farms. But

Sheep? Ì can only recall seeing

sheep in the agriculture

buildings at the state fair. My

impression? Stupid, stinky

animals.

and I’ve never been a

shepherd. I grew up in Iowa,

where agriculture is king. I’d

venture a guess that most of

the land is in some row-crop

like corn and soybeans. But

there are plenty of farms and

corporate farms with cattle,

both beef and dairy. Oh yes,

hogs! “Smells like money.” 2nd

in the nation in hogs!

Chickens, layers and fryers are

everywhere on small scales

and large factory farms. But

Sheep? Ì can only recall seeing

sheep in the agriculture

buildings at the state fair. My

impression? Stupid, stinky

animals.

Since I personally know so very little about sheep, I asked

Google. On a site called

very little about sheep, I asked

Google. On a site called

Modern Farmer and one called

An Introduction to Sheep

Behavior

I found these fun facts.

  • Contrary to what I have
    thought, sheep are not
    stupid. They rank just below
    the pig and on par with
    cattle in intelligence among
    farm animals. (I know that
    is not a ringing
    endorsement of
    intelligence, but they are
    smarter than I previously
    thought.)

  • it’s estimated their field of
    vision is between 270 and
    320 degrees; compair that to
    humans average about 155

  • sheep don’t walk in a
    straight line to make use of
    that 320° degree field of
    vision, and walking a
    crooked path, they can see
    behind them.

  • Sheep see in color

  • They have poor depth
    perception

  • Sheep can’t right themselves
    if they’re on their back.

  • They can literally die of
    fright due to a copper overdose that they produce
    in their brains

  • Sheep have excellent
    hearing. their ears can
    swivel to better detect from
    where a sound is coming

  • Loud and clanging metal
    noises scare them

  • if one sheep will move then
    the entire flock will follow.

  • Sheep have an excellent
    sense of smell (which is
    unfortunate because they
    stink). But I suppose it it’s
    sweet perfume to them.

So, all in all, sheep couldn’t be designed any more perfectly to

be eaten by predictors unless

they had no legs at all.

designed any more perfectly to

be eaten by predictors unless

they had no legs at all.

They have no real defensive weapons in their arsenal, no

claws, fangs, nor horns. Their

only defence is avoidance.

weapons in their arsenal, no

claws, fangs, nor horns. Their

only defence is avoidance.

When attacked, their only means of survival is to run

from danger and to band

together in large numbers for

protection. They huddle into a

group and face the enemy so

they can, as a group, avoid the

predictor. But the fact is,

without a shepherd, at least

one sheep is going to get eaten.

means of survival is to run

from danger and to band

together in large numbers for

protection. They huddle into a

group and face the enemy so

they can, as a group, avoid the

predictor. But the fact is,

without a shepherd, at least

one sheep is going to get eaten.

And Jesus calls us sheep! No compliment there. Helpless

human sheep. We like to think

that we are at the top out the

food chain. But in the spiritual

food chain we are at the

bottom, totally defenceless

without the Good Shepherd.

compliment there. Helpless

human sheep. We like to think

that we are at the top out the

food chain. But in the spiritual

food chain we are at the

bottom, totally defenceless

without the Good Shepherd.

Now let’s talk about shepherds. If Jesus’s calling us sheep

sounded demeaning to you, he

wasn’t elevating his status by

claiming to be our shepherd

either.

If Jesus’s calling us sheep

sounded demeaning to you, he

wasn’t elevating his status by

claiming to be our shepherd

either.

If the image in your mind’s eye of a shepherd is of sheep

peacefully eating in a lush

green pasture while the

shepherd daydreamed in the

shade of a tree, think again.

They were rough, weather

beaten men who spent their

lives in the vast wilderness

exposed to the rain, the wind,

and the ever present sun.

of a shepherd is of sheep

peacefully eating in a lush

green pasture while the

shepherd daydreamed in the

shade of a tree, think again.

They were rough, weather

beaten men who spent their

lives in the vast wilderness

exposed to the rain, the wind,

and the ever present sun.

Maybe it would help to equate them to something more

familiar to our American

culture. Think of them as the

cowboys of the old west,

without the horses, hats, guns,

and spurs. No, not the idolized,

sanitized, clamorized

Hollywood version of Roy

Rogers and Gene Autry, but the

actual men who ate the dust

riding behind beef cattle as

they herded them up the

Chisholm Trail from San

Antonio to Abilene. Always on

guard against dangers to the

animals and themselves.

them to something more

familiar to our American

culture. Think of them as the

cowboys of the old west,

without the horses, hats, guns,

and spurs. No, not the idolized,

sanitized, clamorized

Hollywood version of Roy

Rogers and Gene Autry, but the

actual men who ate the dust

riding behind beef cattle as

they herded them up the

Chisholm Trail from San

Antonio to Abilene. Always on

guard against dangers to the

animals and themselves.

Shepherds were pretty low on the social standing ladder.

They were uncultured,

uncouth, unaccustomed to the

niceties of civilized society.

They were as far removed

from priesthood as the east

from the west. And this is

where Jesus placed himself on

that social ladder.

the social standing ladder.

They were uncultured,

uncouth, unaccustomed to the

niceties of civilized society.

They were as far removed

from priesthood as the east

from the west. And this is

where Jesus placed himself on

that social ladder.

Jesus did not come to humankind to lead the people

in elaborate rituals or to

preach beautifully crafted

sermons. He did not come to

stand apart from or above his

flock. He came to be in the

midst of his flock, warning

them, guiding them, and

educating them by simple

stories to which they could

relate.

humankind to lead the people

in elaborate rituals or to

preach beautifully crafted

sermons. He did not come to

stand apart from or above his

flock. He came to be in the

midst of his flock, warning

them, guiding them, and

educating them by simple

stories to which they could

relate.

Jesus made promises for us, his sheep:

sheep:

  • He opens the gate

  • He teaches us his voice

  • He calls us by name

  • He leads us

  • He goes before us

  • Those who enter through him will be saved.

  • He knows us

  • He died for us

And guess what friends. Jesus expects us to stop being sheep.

We are in training to be

shepherds. That is what meant

in Matthew 28:19-20

expects us to stop being sheep.

We are in training to be

shepherds. That is what meant

in Matthew 28:19-20

“Therefore go and make

disciples of all nations,

baptizing them in the name of

the Father and of the Son and

of the Holy Spirit, and teaching

them to obey everything I

have commanded you. And

surely I am with you always, to

the very end of the age.”

So, I’ll send you out from this worship service not as sheep

or cattle, you no longer are. I

send you, my friends, into the

world into the herd to round

them up, to protect them, to

guide them to the heavenly

coral, and most of all to make

them disciples. In the name of

the Father and of the Son and

of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

worship service not as sheep

or cattle, you no longer are. I

send you, my friends, into the

world into the herd to round

them up, to protect them, to

guide them to the heavenly

coral, and most of all to make

them disciples. In the name of

the Father and of the Son and

of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Where Can I Be A Gate?

  • Exodus 32:1-14

When the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. They said to him, “We don’t know what has happened to this Moses, who led us out of Egypt. Make gods who will lead us.” Aaron said to them, “Have your wives, sons, and daughters take off the gold earrings they are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their gold earrings and handed them to Aaron. After he had worked on the gold with a tool, he made it into a statue of a calf. Then they said, “Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival in the LORD’s honor.” Early the next day the people sacrificed burnt offerings and brought fellowship offerings. Afterward, they sat down to a feast, which turned into an orgy. The LORD said to Moses, “Go back down there. Your people whom you brought out of Egypt have ruined everything. They’ve already turned from the way I commanded them to live. They’ve made a statue of a calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it. They’ve said, ‘Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.'” The LORD added, “I’ve seen these people, and they are impossible to deal with. Now leave me alone. I’m so angry with them I am going to destroy them. Then I’ll make you into a great nation.” But Moses pleaded with the LORD his God. “LORD,” he said, “why are you so angry with your people whom you brought out of Egypt using your great power and mighty hand? Don’t let the Egyptians say, ‘He was planning all along to kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth. That’s why he brought them out of our land.’ Don’t be so angry. Reconsider your decision to bring this disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. You took an oath, swearing on yourself. You told them, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. I will give to your descendants all the land I spoke of. It will be their permanent possession.'” So the LORD reconsidered his threat to destroy his people.

  • Philippians 4:1-9

So, brothers and sisters, I love you and miss you. You are my joy and my crown. Therefore, dear friends, keep your relationship with the Lord firm! I encourage both Euodia and Syntyche to have the attitude the Lord wants them to have. Yes, I also ask you, Syzugus, my true partner, to help these women. They fought beside me to spread the Good News along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Always be joyful in the Lord! I’ll say it again: Be joyful! Let everyone know how considerate you are. The Lord is near. Never worry about anything. But in every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests while giving thanks. Then God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard your thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable. Practice what you’ve learned and received from me, what you heard and saw me do. Then the God who gives this peace will be with you.

Where Can I Be A Gate?

Our scripture readings both deal with intercession. In simple terms a person who intercedes stands between two opposing forces and brings peace and protection. I was reminded that at one point Christ referred to himself as the gate in a sheep hold. He stood between the sheep and the wild animals and thieves who would come to do harm to the sheep. This is intercession.

Our message from the Hebrew Bible is an interesting story that has so many possible sermons in it. We could talk about how quickly these people turned their backs on the God who saved them from slavery. We could build a sermon around Aaron who so easily gave in to the pressure of the people. We could focus on the righteous wrath of God toward this ungrateful congregation of freed slaves. However, the thing that jumped out at me years ago when I first read this account was that Moses argued with God and God relented!

Let us take a look here starting in verse 7 “God said to Moses, “Go back down there. Your people whom you brought out of Egypt have ruined everything.”

Did you catch that? God told Moses “YOUR people whom YOU brought out of Egypt”

I want to ask the parents in the crowd to ‘fess up to something. When the kids have just done something that just got on your last nerve, have you turned to your spouse and said, “YOUR kids are driving me nuts!” Not MY kid or OUR kids but YOUR kids.

God is saying that they’ve already turned from the way He commanded them to live. They’ve made a statue of a calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it. They’ve already made idols for themselves and said, ‘Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.’ ”

God is saying to Moses, “You haven’t even had a chance to take them the commandments that I’ve given you and they’ve already broken three of them! “I’ve seen these people, and they are impossible to deal with.

They are impossible to deal with! I have four children of my own. I love them each dearly. I remember telling someone that I wouldn’t take a million dollars for any one of them. However there are days I would have given you the SET for free! That is not true of coarse but, in a way, I can relate to the frustration that God is feeling. Here He is just moments from fulfilling everything that He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Here is the NATION that God had said would come from their seed. This plan had been in process for over four hundred years. In just a short time they would reach the promised land. Land that God had made rich for them (remember “a land flowing with milk and honey”?).

God had brought Moses to the mountain to give them ten laws (the shortest list of laws that any nation has ever had to live by) and during that very time, they had turned to worshiping a god created by their own hands. No wonder God was saddened and disappointed by this ungrateful and unfaithful mob of people.

God’s plan had been irreversible changed by the very nation that He had brought into existence. He was ready to go to plan B. So He said, “Now leave me alone. I’m so angry with them I am going to destroy them.”

Gasp! What? But God is a loving God who is willing to forgive over and over and over! (Remember Jesus saying to Peter that he had to be willing to forgive 70×7 times 490)

Yes He is. However, He has limits. Remember the story of Noah begins with God saying nearly the same thing. The people have become so far gone that He decides to tear it all down and start over – again! He had been pushed past Phili490th time!

Then God promises Moses the same thing that He had told Abraham, then Isaac and then Jacob; “I’ll make YOU into a great nation.”

Moses could have done the same thing that his ancestors did, accept the covenant from God. But instead Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. He becomes the gate between God and the nation of Israel when he said, “why are you so angry with your people whom you brought out of Egypt using your great power and mighty hand?”

Moses reminded God that it was God and not he, Moses, who brought these people out of Egypt.

Don’t let the Egyptians say, ‘He was planning all along to kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth. That’s why he brought them out of our land.’ Don’t be so angry. Reconsider your decision to bring this disaster on your people.

Moses said to God, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. You took an oath, swearing on yourself. You told them, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. I will give to your descendants all the land I spoke of. It will be their permanent possession.’ ”

Moses reminded God that it was God who had made the original covenant and then repeated it to successive generations of Abraham’s line. This was not a contract that men had made with God. This was a contract that God had made with men and could not be broken.

So the Lord reconsidered his threat to destroy his people.

God reconsidered. God relented because Moses interceded for the people. This vast multitude of people would have perished without the persistent prayer of this one man. God listened.

In the new testament reading Paul asks the congregation at Philipi to keep their relationship with the Lord firm! And he encouraged both Euodia and Syntyche to have the attitude the Lord wants them to have.

There was a division in this church that was destroying it. God’s plan for this people was in jeopardy of being destroyed by the people themselves.

Paul intercedes and becomes an advocate on behalf of the whole congregation by reminding the ‘combatants’ to be open to the love that God intends them of have. He is asking them to look past their differences and remember that they are both children of God and should love each other as family.

Then Paul gives them guidelines on how to achieve this harmony. He says, “Always be joyful in the Lord!” That is so important that he repeats it by saying, “I’ll say it again: Be joyful!’ Remember the image of the gate on the sheep hold? Paul is standing between the sheep and the wolf and saying, “Be joyful in the Lord!” What amazing insight! How can there be conflict where there is the joy of the Lord?

So step one is joy. Step two is being considerate. Being considerate means that you look at the situation from the other person’s point of view. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Now step three is never worry about anything. You know what worry is? Worry is the interest that the Devil charges on a debt you don’t owe. Worry is nonproductive waste of time and energy.

It is easy to say, “Don’t worry.” But how do we do that? Paul explains, “In every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests while giving thanks.” Turn it over to God. Leave it in His hands and trust that He will turn it to good.

Here is the good news. If we follow these simple steps, then God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard our thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus.

Paul’s final thoughts on this conflict resolution are, “keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable.”

As you read the Bible it is very easy to find examples of people of God stepping into situations where they became the gate between warring people and factions and brought about a peaceful settlement; examples where righteous people have provided shelter for the weak and guidance to the hurtful.

In my own life I can think of times when someone has stepped in to do intercessory work on my behalf. I’m sure that you can think of examples in your life also

We know that we have an intercessor in Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of God and acts as an advocate for us. This same Christ commands that we do the same for others. We are to be the bringers of peace and love to the world. We need to look for opportunities to be gates in the sheep hold. Amen

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The Long Sabbath

THE LONG SABBATHExodus 31:14-1714. “‘Make the Sabbath a special day. If someone treats the Sabbath like any other day, that person must be killed. Whoever works on the Sabbath day must be separated from their people. 15. There are six other days in the week for working. But the seventh day is a very special day of rest. That is the special day to honor the LORD. Anyone who works during the Sabbath must be killed. 16. The Israelites must remember the Sabbath and make it a special day. They must continue to do this forever. It is an agreement between them and me that will continue forever. 17. The Sabbath will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever.’” (The LORD worked six days and made the sky and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and relaxed.)I know that many people myself included, if we remember the Ten Commandments at all, we remember the “short” version.

  1. You shall have no other Gods before me
  2. You shall not make for yourselves an idol
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy
  5. Honor your father and your mother
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not give false testimony
  10. You shall not covet

The short version is easier to remembered and to forget.Now, wait a minute, let’s back up a might. But not all the way to Adam and Eve, just to Abram. You will remember God told him to leave his home and go where God would lead him.Because Abraham loved God, and because God loved Abraham, He made an eternal convenient with him. “I will give you and your descendants the land in which you are immigrants, the whole land of Canaan.” (From Genesis chapter 17)God promised a goodly size chunk of real estate to Abram and his descendents. Way cool, huh? All Abraham had to do was wander around on it for awhile ~ well, the rest of his life actually. Kind of like the earliest settlers did round about here. They just rode around pointing at stuff and saying, “That’s mine, and that’s mine, and so’s that.” Sort of like a dog or cat marking their territory.Anyway, there was this land without any clearly defined boarders, that his descendents did indeed live on. There weren’t really enough of his kin to call them a nation. There were barely enough to call them a tried. Mostly, they were just an extended family.What’s that I hear? Did someone out there just mumble, “What’s all this got to do with a long Sabbath?” Trust me, I’m getting there. And it’s a straight line too.Okay, where were we? Oh yeah, Abraham’s heirs were living together occupying a chunk of land, not yet named Israel. Maybe it was about the size of a large ranch. They raised livestock sheep, goats, camels, and possibly cattle. And they did okay until a drought hit the land.Then in one of those bad luck turned to good luck things that God loves to use, (start reading in Genesis chapter 37 for that story) they moved to Egypt. They were welcomed to Egypt and even given a fair size peace of land on which to live.Time went by, a lot of time. The family grew. This once beget that one, who begat another, and, well there was a whole lot of begeting going on.A new pharaoh came to power who recognized that, what had been a family, had grown into a separate nation within his boarders. And he didn’t take kindly to them. They were enslaved.Moses comes along and leads these descents of Abraham out into the dessert. Now God is ready to forge these former slaves into a true nation. And the first thing they need is a set of laws on how to behave toward God and toward themselves. And right about the middle of these laws is God’s gift to His followers. This is the law of the Sabbath.You were beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get back to that, weren’t you?God felt that this law was so important that He put some “teeth” in it. His people were to observe a day of rest once every seven days. On this day They were/are to honor God.How many of you seasoned citizens remember when most businesses closed on Saturday and Sunday? Families went together to church. Perhaps the Sunday midday meal was something special.Something happened. Some business decided he could squeeze out an extra dollar if he was open on Sunday. His competitors couldn’t let him get ahead of them. So They started being open also.This meant that dad or mom or dad and mom were working instead of worshipping together. Organized sporting events for the children and the professionals proliferated.We lost our Sabbath, our God given ~ God demanded ~ day of rest.I will not echo things I’ve read online that claim this pandemic is a plague caused by God. But I will suggest that God can use this time of withdrawal and isolation as a L-O-N-G Sabbath. A time to draw back from the busyness of life, to reconnect with family and with God.Amen.

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Halakha (Jewish law), especially the Talmud tractate Shabbat, identifies thirty-nine categories of activity prohibited on Shabbat (Hebrew: ל״ט אבות מלאכות, lamed tet avot melakhot), and clarifies many questions surrounding the application of the biblical prohibitions. Many of these activities are also prohibited on the Jewish holidays listed in the Torah, although there are significant exceptions permitting carrying and preparing food under specific circumstances.

There are often disagreements between Orthodox Jews and Conservative Jews or other non-Orthodox Jews as to the practical observance of Shabbat. It is of note that the (strict) observance of Shabbat is often seen as a benchmark for orthodoxy and indeed has legal bearing on the way a Jew is seen by an orthodox religious court regarding their affiliation to Judaism.

“Peace, Be Still”

Read Psalm 4 and Luke 10:38-42*

Sermon: “Peace, Be Still”

As they were traveling along, Jesus went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. I can almost hear you say “What a minute, Tom, we know this story. Marthaa too busy and Mary got the good stuff.”

Yes, on the surface, that is as good of a summery as any. But is that all there is to this story? Can we not learn anything more?

I have heard plenty of sermons asking me to decide if I am a Martha, a person too busy with the cares of the world; or a Mary, the quiet, contemplative, lover of Jesus. Well, my answer has always been, “Yes”.

Yes, I am each of those things at different times.

However, when I read this passage now, I understand more about what is happening here. That is one of the marvels of scripture reading, the more you read, them more you see. Like a flower opening its petals, it slowly opens to your heart and mind.

It all started when Jesus came to Bethany, to visit the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. They had become cherished personal friends of Jesus during His earthly ministry. He had a profound love for their family, and it’s clear from Luke’s account that Jesus made Himself at home in their house.

Certainly hospitality was a special hallmark of this family. Martha in particular is portrayed everywhere as a meticulous hostess. The fact that her name was usually listed first whenever she’s named with her siblings implies strongly that she was the elder sister of Mary and Lazarus. She as the eldest would have taken on the role of caretaker for her sister and brother.

First of all it appears that it is Martha’s home. Nowhere in the story does it say that Mary lived there with Martha. It would have been a common thing for unmarried sisters to live together. However it would have been equally common that they have separate homes. I have also heard sermons that say this is their brother Lazareth’s home. However, when I read John 11:1 we find, “Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, the village where Mary and her sister Martha lived, was sick.” To me, that just says that the sisters and their brother lived in the same town. So, if indeed this was Martha’s home, it changes the dynamics of the story slightly.

However, whether she owned the home or was just the one who managed the home, it was Martha who invited Jesus into her home. This was her service to him. By inviting the Master into her home she had accepted the hosting responsibilities implied in the invitation.

Jesus had come at Martha’s invitation. She was the one who welcomed Him in, signifying that she was the actual master of ceremonies in this house. On this occasion, at least, she wasn’t merely filling in as a surrogate hostess for a friend; she was plainly the one in charge of the household. She fussed over her hostess duties. She wanted everything to be just right. She was a conscientious and considerate hostess, and these were admirable traits. Much in her behavior was commendable.

When I read this passage, I am often reminded of my first mother in law. She was a loving, giving, Christian woman who had a real gift for giving of herself, her time and everything she owned. When describing her, I usually say, “She was the type of woman where, if you knocked on her door to sell magazines, she would invite you in. And the following scene would unfold: “Here sit down, you look hot and tired. Would you like some water? Or I have some pop. Or I could make coffee. Would you like a sandwich, I have leftover ham.”

She sounds like a delight doesn’t she? Amen? She was. However, it could be slightly frustrating when you came to visit her. She was so busy being the hostess, that you couldn’t get her to sit still and talk with you. I think of Martha in that way.

Martha wasn’t the only person that scriptures say invited Jesus into their homes. So perhaps we should take at those times and compare and contrast the other invitations with Martha’s. In Luke 14:7-11 Jesus attends a banquet in the home of a prominent Pharisee and teaches a lesson about proper guest etiquette.

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

Having now schooled the guests on proper behavior, he does the same for the Pharisee in verses 12-14

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

Now that we have heard Jesus’ teaching, let’s look at what was going on in Martha’s home. Has she invited those who can return the favor?

No. She has invited Jesus. By extension, we can assume that his disciples were also present. Remember the scriptures says, “As they were traveling along”. Jesus was an itinerant preacher with no permanent home. Luke 9:58 and Matthew 8:20 say, “Jesus told him, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to sleep.” While it is possible that some of the disciples had homes in the area, we must remember that when Jesus called them, they dropped what they were doing and followed. Even if the disciples weren’t actually homeless, they were without income. They were living on the charity of others. So Jesus and his followers were not in a position to repay Martha by inviting her to dine with them.

Jesus, as the guest was seated in the honored place. Not because he chose it but because it was offered.

I find it enlightening that the customs of the time held that women’s legal rights were categorized along with Gentiles, minors, deaf-mutes and “undesirables” such as gamblers, the insane, usurers, and pigeon-racers.” One of these days I want to know more about those sinful pigeon-racers. But that is a study for another time.

The point is, for Jesus to accept her offer, meant that he was once again breaking the traditions and teachings of the religious leaders of the day. Just as He did when in Mark 2:14-16 we read, “When Jesus was leaving, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting in a tax office. Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” So Levi got up and followed him. Later Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house. Many tax collectors and sinners who were followers of Jesus were eating with him and his disciples. When the experts in Moses’ Teachings who were Pharisees saw him eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

This, most likely, was Martha’s life. Everything revolved around caring for the home. It was both her treasure and her prison because “In those times, respectable women were expected to stay within the confines of the home. “The woman of the first century did not even do her own shopping, except possibly to go out, accompanied by a slave, to buy material which she would use to construct her own clothing at home! Customarily, even a woman of stature could not engage in commerce and would rarely be seen outside her home. Only a woman in dire economic straits, who was forced to become the family breadwinner, could engage in her own small trade. If a woman was ever in the streets, she was to be heavily veiled and was prohibited from conversing with men. “It is the way of a woman to stay at home and it is the way of a man to go out into the marketplace” (J)

Now we know that Martha had a sister named Mary. and we know that Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him talk. It is believed that this is the same event that is described in John 12:1-8.

Six days before Passover, Jesus arrived in Bethany. Lazarus, whom Jesus had brought back to life, lived there. Dinner was prepared for Jesus in Bethany. Martha served the dinner, and Lazarus was one of the people eating with Jesus.

Mary took a bottle of very expensive perfume made from pure nard and poured it on Jesus’ feet. Then she dried his feet with her hair. The fragrance of the perfume filled the house.

One of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was going to betray him, asked, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for a high price and the money given to the poor?” (Judas didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the moneybag and carried the contributions.) Jesus said to Judas, “Leave her alone! She has done this to prepare me for the day I will be placed in a tomb. You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me with you.”

Some scholars believe that Mary was also the woman at the Pharisee’s house in Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. Jesus went to the Pharisee’s house and was eating at the table.

A woman who lived a sinful life in that city found out that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house. So she took a bottle of perfume and knelt at his feet. She was crying and washed his feet with her tears. Then she dried his feet with her hair, kissed them over and over again, and poured the perfume on them.

The Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw this and thought, “If this man really were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner.”

Jesus spoke up, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

Simon replied, “Teacher, you’re free to speak.”

So Jesus said, “Two men owed a moneylender some money. One owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other owed him fifty. When they couldn’t pay it back, he was kind enough to cancel their debts. Now, who do you think will love him the most?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.”

Jesus said to him, “You’re right!” Then, turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “You see this woman, don’t you? I came into your house. You didn’t wash my feet. But she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You didn’t give me a kiss. But ever since I came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You didn’t put any olive oil on my head. But she has poured perfume on my feet. That’s why I’m telling you that her many sins have been forgiven. Her great love proves that. But whoever receives little forgiveness loves very little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” The other guests thought, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?”

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace!”

If this indeed the same woman, why was she said to be “A woman who lived a sinful life”? Remember that I said earlier that a woman’s place was in the house … literally. Respectable women did not leave the house. Yet Mary is known to have left the house. The terminology used in that day for a prostitute was “one who goes abroad”.

After their brother, Lazareth had died, Martha went to Jesus to tell him not to bother because it was too late. Jesus has this to say in John 11:25-40 Jesus said to (Martha), “I am the one who brings people back to life, and I am life itself. Those who believe in me will live even if they die.26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe that?”
27 Martha said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who was expected to come into the world.”

28 After Martha had said this, she went back home and whispered to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here, and he is calling for you.”

Several things catch my attention here that shed more light on the differences and similarities with the sisters. Martha is the one who goes to Jesus and tells him that Lazareth is already dead. It was her responsibility as the head of the house. After all, she was the one who had sent the message asking Jesus to come and heal her brother. As the eldest, she could have told Mary to go and give the bad news that Lazareth had died. Instead she made the journey herself. Then after Jesus hears her confession that she believes He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who was expected to come into the world, she goes home and tells Mary to go.

29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Jesus. 30 (Jesus had not yet come into the village but was still where Martha had met him.) 31 The Jews who were comforting Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and leave. So they followed her. They thought that she was going to the tomb to cry.

Mary had stayed behind at the house with the mourners and then went running out. It is helpful to understand the traditional rituals and observances at the time of a Jewish death.

“Traditionally, a person is buried the same day as his or her death, followed by seven days of mourning. A special meal of condolence is provided after the burial. Mourners remain in the house of mourning with friends and family throughout the week. Prayers are offered, and readings from the Torah are shared. Memorial candles are often lit. Traditional grooming stops, as do marital relations, entertainment, and regular study. In some cases, mourners wait 30 days before cutting their hair.

The New Testament speaks of mourners’ loud wailing. For example, when Jesus came to the home of the synagogue ruler whose daughter had died, He “saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly” (Mark 5:38). This took place on the same day as the girl’s death, as her body was still inside the home.

Mourning sometimes included shaving one’s head or putting ashes or dust on the head, in addition to rending garments. These actions communicated to everyone that the person was in mourning. Jeremiah 25:34 mentions the actions of a mourner in a judgment on evil rulers: “Weep and wail, you shepherds; roll in the dust, you leaders of the flock. For your time to be slaughtered has come.”(g)

So Mary has run from the house of mourning and gone to Jesus.

32 When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Notice how strongly she believes in Jesus power.

33 When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who were crying with her, he was deeply moved and troubled.

34 So Jesus asked, “Where did you put Lazarus?”

They answered him, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus cried. 36 The Jews said, “See how much Jesus loved him.” 37 But some of the Jews asked, “Couldn’t this man who gave a blind man sight keep Lazarus from dying?”

38 Deeply moved again, Jesus went to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone covering the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Take the stone away.”

Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Jesus, “Lord, there must already be a stench. He’s been dead for four days.”

40 Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see God’s glory?”

From these glimpses into the lives of these two women it is easy to see that they both loved the Lord. Each in their own way honored him. It is also easy to see the differences. Martha was a thinker and a doer. Mary was ruled more by her heart and more emotional.

It was these differences that are in play here when we read, “But Martha was upset about all the work she had to do. So she asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.”

Notice in the next verse how gently Jesus answers Martha. It is not a condemnation for her service to him. It is a reminder that time with Him is more important than all the busy work. Listen, “The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. “But of the few things worth worrying about, there is only one thing you need.” Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.”

I have to admit that sometimes the “busy work” of preparing sermons, picking the worship music, and typing the bulletins; keeps me from actually spending time in communion with my Lord.

If you, like me, let the day to day things of life, even those things that are in service to the Lord, keep you from the peaceful refreshment of time spent at the feet of Jesus, listen to his quiet voice. He will answer when you call upon Him. He can free you of your troubles for he has pity on you.

Then along with the psalmist I say, “Think about this on your bed and remain quiet. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness by trusting the Lord. Many are saying, “Who can show us anything good?” Let the light of your presence shine on us, O Lord. You put more joy in my heart than when their grain and new wine increase. I fall asleep in peace the moment I lie down because you alone, O Lord, enable me to live securely.” Amen.

All scripture quotes are from GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

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