Saturday, April 12, 2014

Obedient to the Point of Death

Sermon April 13, 2014 Sermon –- Obedient to the Point of Death

Isaiah 50:4-9a

The Lord [a]God has given Me the tongue of disciples,
That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.
He awakens Me morning by morning,
He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.
The Lord God has opened My ear;
And I was not disobedient
Nor did I turn back.
I gave My back to those who strike Me,
And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard;
I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.
For the Lord God helps Me,

The spiritual themes of this passage in Isaiah are “listening for God” and “listening to God.”

Generally we first listen for god and then listen to god.  IN other words, first, we become aware of God’s presence and experience openness to God’s love and guidance, and then we can hear and act on a divine revelation.

Think of the many ways that God can be present to us, including worship, meditation, in our personal relationships with family and friends, in our vocations and avocations (hobby), in nature, in science, in the arts.  God comes to us personally in unexpected and surprising ways.

Psalm 31:9-16 UMH 764

Trustworthiness is the feature of the character of God which Psalm 31:9-16 stresses.

Today we celebrate Jesus entry into Jerusalem with the crowds shouting Hosannah. Yet in only a few hours that joy will be turned into horror as we see how the story turns very dark in the treatment of the one they were praising as they shout for his Crucifixion.

v.13 For I hear the whispering of many – terror all around! – as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.

v. 14 But I trust you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”

Philippians 2:5-11

Have this attitude [a]in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be [b]grasped, but [c]emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.


Matthew 26:14-27:66  /-(27:11-54)

In the Liturgy of the Passion we meet Jesus, not as the charismatic teacher who triumphantly rode through the gates of Jerusalem, but as  the one betrayed, abandoned, and facing the inevitability of death.

Shouts of adulation give way to “Let him be crucified,” words of consolation to anguish and uncertainty, and Gospel proclamation to silence.

Jesus voice fades into the background, overshadowed by a cacophony of unsubstantiated claims and misguided assertion as the religious leaders accuse him of treason and convince the people to demand his execution.

The Betrayers: Judas and Peter
First, we might highlight a seemingly odd couple early in this long narrative.  Peter, we know, will become an influential leader in the early church.  In contrast, according to Dante's Inferno, Judas faces eternal damnation in the maw of Satan himself. 

 And yet Matthew parallels their betrayals of Jesus.  Both are one of the twelve.  Both are present at the supper.  Both betray Jesus.  Their similarities then largely cease. 

Judas meets a famously untimely demise; that Peter's fall is not irreversible is intimated in the concluding chapters of Matthew and in the wider Christian tradition.  At the moment when faith was most severely tested and the cost of discipleship was highest, both Judas and Peter fail. 

They remind us that at the cross there is but a thin line between faithfulness and treachery.  We are constantly tempted to broach that line.  We trust that repentance is always possible, even for Judas.  Both Judas and Peter regret deeply their betrayals of Jesus and yet their lives take wholly separate directions.  What do we make of their divergent paths?

Power and Corruption: Caiaphas and Pilate
Jesus' execution is a conspiracy of empowered cowardice and derelict duty.  Caiaphas and his co-conspirators have predetermined the outcome of the show trial and now only need the pretense of "evidence."  They arrange for false testimony but still cannot find a way to condemn the innocent Jesus. 

Ultimately, it takes Caiaphas' direct involvement to inflate already trumped up charges of blasphemy, but the office of the high priest cannot put someone to death.  To achieve his ends, Caiaphas turns to Pilate whose primary job was keeping the peace.  Pilate attempts to defuse an increasingly rabid crowd but eventually defers to their passions rather than justice.  When Pilates washes his hands, he does nothing to minimize his complicity. 

The machinations of politics may be the proximate cause of Jesus' death, but Matthew's readers are fully aware that God continues to work in the background.  The conspiracy around Jesus' death is a powerful reminder of the political implications of following Jesus to the cross.

Accidental Actors: Barabbas and Simon of Cyrene
I imagine that neither Barabbas nor Simon could have anticipated the role they would play in this story.  An insurrectionist, Barabbas could not have anticipated a pardon after committing crimes against the political order.  An immigrant or sojourner from northern Africa, Simon could not have anticipated being commissioned to help in the crucifixion of a presumed criminal.  We know little about these two characters.  We know even less about how their involvement in the passion affected their lives.  Whether as an innocent bystander or a jailed criminal, the path of God's Son may cross ours at the most unexpected moments.  How will we react when we are freed from our prisons?  How will we react when we are conscripted to carry a symbol of shame and death?

The Condemned: Two Bandits
Jesus dies between two bandits.  These condemned criminals must have been found guilty of a crime far more serious than mere thievery.  In some significant sense, they must have disrupted the fragile social order imposed by Rome, perhaps by making the Roman roads unsafe for commerce or taking part in insurrection. 

 Matthew 27:44 notes only that these two bandits derided Jesus along with the crowds that gathered to witness a trio of executions.  Unlike Luke, Matthew does not record the confession of guilt and hope for redemption of one of the two companions of Jesus on the cruel crosses. 

In Matthew, the portrait is stark.  At the end of his life, Jesus dies alongside two convicted brigands who mock Jesus with their last gasps of breath.  At the end of his life, Jesus faces a virtually unanimous public shaming, a veritable consensus around Jesus' guilt. 

We however know how the story ends.  We know that Good Friday becomes Easter Sunday, that death does not have the final word but that life reigns through the resurrection.  On Palm Sunday, all indications are that Jesus' guilt is evident, that Jesus deserves the shame of the cross.  Easter is the ultimate redemption of Jesus' innocence and God's mission.

Witnesses: Women and a Centurion
One of the most striking consistencies among the Gospels is the shared tradition that a number of female followers of Jesus persevered to the very end.  Though deserted by the disciples, Jesus is not wholly bereft of friends in this moment of darkness. 

The light of recognition also emerges from an unlikely source.  A centurion--a representative of Rome's willingness to deploy violence in the maintenance and announcement of its influence over others --is witness of both Jesus' death and his identity. 


 Having seen Jesus' body give out after a torturous and shameful execution, the centurion recognizes who Jesus truly was: God's son.  Though not a witness of Jesus' healing miracles, his impassioned mountaintop sermon, or the dazzling transfiguration, the centurion bears witness to the latest in a litany of crucifixions he has seen and yet sees and declares that Jesus was no mere criminal.

Heralds of the Resurrection: Joseph of Arimathea and the Roman Guards
Two final characters set the stage for Jesus' triumph over death.  Joseph helps provide a temporary home for Jesus' body at an important time.  The arrival of the Sabbath meant avoiding both work and the spiritual contamination emanated by a corpse.  In a rush, Jesus finds a not-so-final resting place.  At this tomb, Roman guards are posted to assure that Jesus' body is not stolen under the pretense of claiming his resurrection.  The preemptive denials of Jesus' resurrection are already set in motion.  Some will believe, but many will not.

In Closing let us think again on the words of Paul in Philippians 2 v.5-11

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death [d]on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

He rode into Jerusalem in Great celebration hailed as the King…..and his life closed in shame and humiliation on the Cross.  But we know the rest of the Story…..Resurrection Morning. Amen


Hymn of Reflection UMH 359  Alas!  And Did My Saviour Bleed

I Am the Resurrection! Do you Believe?

Sermon April 6 2014         Sermon –- I Am The Resurrection!  Do You Believe?


Ezekiel 37:1-14

Then he said to me, “ Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel…..

O My people, I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I the Lord, have spoken and will act, “ says the Lord.

At the core of biblical narrative is the story of Displacement – of having wandered a long way from home, and long to return.  This is the underlying plot of being cast out of Eden, of being foreigners in Egypt, of the journey to the promised land, of the longing of exiles in Babylon to return to the land of their fathers.

I heard this quote this week.

Or where we find ourselves today with the anger and bitterness of country folks
just wanting to have a happy church listening to the
Word and doing small missions in the community. The
monster of a world-wide organization, full of egotistical,
self-centered ladder-climbers does not fit into our
scheme of things. And yet, we are required to support
that very same system in which we don't believe nor

Psalm 130  UMH 848

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.  Lord hear my voice!

How did we get so caught in the web?

Economists write of a ‘deepening” recession; diplomats warn of a “deepening” crises; therapists see patients who are “deeply” depressed.

We are waiting. Watching and praying  for things to get better and they seem to get worse.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope: my soul waits for the Lord.

Romans 8:6-11

Our hope can be seen in Paul’s words. : If Christ is in you….the spirit is alive because of righteousness.  This same spirit that dwells in you is the spirit that raised Jesus back to Life.

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is [a]alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies [b]through His Spirit who dwells in you.

John 11:1-45

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.

21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus *said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha *said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this? 27 She *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are [f]the Christ, the Son of God, even [g]He who comes into the world.”

.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, *said to Him, “Lord, by this time [j]there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus *said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus *said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

When your plants look like they are dying….you add water, miracle grow or something to revivethem.

When your car battery is dead….you buy a new battery.

When you realize that you are dying spiritually you add the Word of God.

As Christians, we believe in the power of resurrection…

Resurrection and life are central to the meaning that we make for our lives.

Resurrection confronts us as an urgent call, beckoning us to consider the possibility that those whom our world deems, socially, physically, spiritually, and emotionally dead might live into a new reality.

We pray for the power of resurrection in the lives of persons and communities bound by the graveclothes of war, genocide, poverty, disease, dis-ease, systematice abuse and systemic oppression.


Releasing persons and communities from the clutches of death also demands something of us.

Though Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, he urged those who were alive and well, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Resurrected women, men, and children today also require caring communities that are willing to nurture and strengthen them until they are able to walk alone; 

to remove the graveclothes of self-doubt, social isolation, marginalization, and oppression; to tear away the wrappings of fear; anxiety, loss and grief, so that unbound women, men , and children might walk in dignity and become creative agents in the world.

We see communities dying around us.  We see churches and institutions dying around us.

What can we do?  Believe in the true Resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the Resurrection power that we need.

This same spirit that dwells in you is the spirit that raised Jesus back to Life. Think about that.

The one that Moses faced at the Burning bush gave the following as His name:

I am that I am.

Jesus told Mary:  I am the resurrection.  Do you believe this?

Jesus is the resurrection of life. Jesus brings life. Do you believe? Amen


Hymn of Reflection UMH 467 Trust and Obey

God Sees your Heart

Sermon March 30, 2014  God Sees your Heart

I Samuel 16:1-13

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t  look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him: for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Jesse brought all 7 of his sons pass before Samuel and God rejected them all.

Samuel said to Jesse, “ Are all your sons here?” and  he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.”

Samuel told Jesses to send for him.

So the runt – David was brought in and the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him: for this is the one.”

A man after God’s heart.

We can put on our false faces before one another But God knows the intent of our heart.

In the life of the church, too often conflicts erupt, opportunities are missed, people are hurt and/or disheartened, and the community takes several steps backward because the boundaries of our covenant and purpose are ignored and broken.

Psalm 23 UMH 754

The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want…..this should be our daily motto. Meaning that we put our complete faith and trust in the Lord to take care of us.k

The shepherd walks with you in the midst of your trials.  The darkness is not changed, but rather you are changed when you receive the gift of his presence.

Ephesians 5:8-14

Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 

Sleeper; awake!

Rise from the dead;

And Christ will shine on you.

Matthew  John 9: 1-41

“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

Blind man’s eyesight was restored.

The Jews began to question him wanting to know who this man was that healed him. They drove him out of the synagogue.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, And who is he , Sir?  Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”  Jesus said, I came into the world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

The importance  of hearing and seeing comes into full relief when Jesus’ words in 10:1-21(Read today) are heard along with the healing of the blind man.  In this discourse Jesus integrates seeing and hearing with believing.  Jesus reiterates that those who Know him, his sheep, hear his voice and follow him.  In the Gospel of John, such “knowing” articulates relationship.  In the figurative language of the sheep and the shepherd, Jesus recasts the importance of seeing and hearing by creating new images for what has already occurred in chapter 9 between the blind man and Jesus.

God looks at our hearts. Even though we may not be completely whole on the outside God sees the intent of our heart.   Our daily prayer should be ‘help us see others as you see them…Amen

Hymn of Reflection  474 Precious Lord

Don't Question God's Wisdom

Sermon March 23 2014                     Don’t Question God’s Wisdom


Exodus 17:1-7

Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and livestock with thirst?

The motif of thirst connects the first reading with the reading from John.  In the wilderness, the experience of thirst leads to a lack of trust in the Lord.  In John, routine thirst leads to an encounter with Jesus.

A dialogical reading of the two passages affirms thirst as both physical deprivation and a spiritual need (understanding thirst as a metaphor for spiritual longing).  Thirst reminds the reader of vulnerability and need, for which we should trust God.

Thirst (physical or metaphorically) can lead to either a lack of faith or an experience of divine presence. The Church has a responsibility to minister to people dealing with physical deprivation and spiritual longing.

Human nature is so perfectly exhibit by the Israelites.  We tend to find things to gripe about no matter what is going on.  “they are almost ready to stone me,” Moses admits.

Massah and Meribah is summed up as indicating the question of the people, “Is the Lord among us or not?”  Hopefully, that should be a rhetorical question: the answer is YES.  And if God is among the people, then the people should respond with faith.

God did not abandon the Israelites to the desert.  There was manna to eat and water from a rock.

One day at a time, with just what they needed, they began to make their way through the wilderness.  One day at a time, they got up and ate.  They drank.  They lived.  They breathed. Nothing exciting or glamorous.  Just one day at a time.

Even though we may think we are walking in circles at times.  God is with us. One day at a time.


Psalm 95  UMH 814

For the Lord is a great God.

v.8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness when your ancestors tested me, and put me to proof, though they had seen my work.

For forty years I loathed that generation and said. “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.

Therefore in my anger I swore “they shall not enter my rest (Sabbath).”

At the turning point in verse 7, the psalmist remarks, somewhat ominously, “ O that today you would listen to his voice!  The addressee changes from “us” to “you”.  The speaker does not refer to “the Lord” but instead speaks  as the Lord in first person.

Here is where we begin to squirm a bit.  Although the psalm goes on to speak to the ancient Hebrews who did not listen to the Lord, we know full well that we are guilty of the very same shortcomings.

The first part of the psalm calls for eyes to witness and voices to sing; the second part of the psalm calls for ears to listen and feet to follow.  All the while this psalm pints to a people who have failed to follow.

If God is so good and worthy of praise, and if we have seen God’s glory and were nodding our heads during the first verses of this psalm, why is it that we have so often failed to listen or to follow?

This is a good psalm for Lent.  This psalm begins with a joyful noise, but then descends into the darkness of our own guilt as we face our failure to follow.  Lent is a season of accountability.

If we practice doing relatively small things in our power right now, we will grow as Christians so that one day we will be able to do those things that seem impossible to us today.

Lent is a time for us to strive to do better.  Do Not Question God’s Wisdom.

Romans 5:1-11

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ….

For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

Through Christ, God reveals the nature of the divine love --------a self giving love that suffered death on the cross for us, even though we do not deserve this love. 

Through faith we understand perfection is not necessary for us to be loved by God.  We do not need to justify ourselves.  We are Loved, and that is all the justification we need.

We are in relationship with God, not because of our efforts, but because of God’s loving action. Through faith we enter into that relationship and discover peace, hope, and perseverance, even in suffering

John 4:5-42

A Samaritan woman came to draw water and Jesus said to her: “Give me to drink.”

How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me to drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

v.27 Just then his disciples came.  They were astonished that he was speaking with a  woman….

Rabbi, eat something….

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete His work.

This is a daring conversation for the woman at the well: Jesus is a Jew and a man.  She and Jesus cross boundaries to talk.

Even though Jesus offers living water, he first asks the woman for a drink.  He asks her to give him something, even as he offers the immeasurably valuable to her.  Give and take.  God seeks that kind of relationship with us.

It must be a pleasure to talk with someone who catches on so quickly!  He even reveals to her that he is the Messiah. The disciples don’t understand him:  They don’t get that he is speaking in images when he talks about food.  They just don’t get him.

The Samaritan woman does.  She goes back to the city, illuminated by their short conversation, and she spreads the word, and it has to be with an air of certainty that convinces people, or at least makes them curious, because they go out to meet Jesus, and he stays and wins hearts and souls.

Even so, the next day, that woman must go back to the well, for the regular, ordinary water needed in her household, where she lives with whoever isn’t her husband.  The work of being alive goes on, day after day.  And although Jesus told her the hour was near, WE are still waiting.

Don’t Question God’s Wisdom!

My Word that goes out from My mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purposes for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11

For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

Paul wrestled with this same question. Yet his question centered around more theological issues. Like how an intelligent person can walk outside, look at nature in all its beauty, and walk away saying that it was created by a big bang, billions & billions of years ago.

As dumb as it is to believe in anything apart from the Creation story in Genesis, Paul says that's not the dumbest conclusion man has come to. Man's stupidest conclusion is to reject the cross by saying that it was foolish to think that God, who is spirit, could become a man, and then die on a cross as the lowest of criminals to provide an atonement for all of mankind's sin-v. 18.

To be saved doesn't just mean that you believe there is a God. Salvation is not even based on if someone believes that Jesus was the Son of God? Satan and his demons know this. The only belief that will save someone is if they accept Jesus dying on the cross as their sin bearer, going to hell in their place, and being raised 3 days later. Those are the 3 components that make up the message of the cross.

Don’t Question the wisdom of God.

If Jesus is not the Lord of your life, today is the day of salvation. Ask Jesus to come into your heart and invite Him to be the Lord of your life. Amen

Hymn of reflection  UMH 591  Rescue the Perishing.

The Step of Faith

Sermon March 16, 2014          The Step of Faith

Genesis 12:1-4a

12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran

God tells Abram to go to a place he has never been before – go from your country, go from your kin, go from your father’s house – go and I will show you where.  So Abram goes.  We really don’t know a lot about Abram. Was he a righteous man as Noah? Why would God call him?

In looking back through the scriptures God called the least likely to follow.  Even today we may hear of a person being called to ministry and we say “ why would God call that one?” Even when God calls us to do a job our first response usually is I am not equipped.

We see that God does not always call those with the best credentials or the shining pedigrees. But we do see again and again, that a faithful response to God’s leading results in a  blessing of gifts and talents, of learned and acquired skill sets sufficient for the task to which an individual is called.

Our own experience and the witness of Scripture concur that the one who calls is the one who equips.  The one who equips always leads the called to more complete expression of the persons they were created to be.

Consequently, if the call is of God, the answer to all the above questions is YES.  A faithful response is the embrace of what God has already called into being – a newness of being – and the release from what is known for what is promised.

A faithful response is neither forced nor coerced, but a step freely taken toward our true selves. The notion of embracing newness and relinquishing what has been connects this text with today’s Gospel, the story of Nicodemus (John 3:1-17). Abram was born into a new reality that God called into being.  He took  The Step of Faith.


Psalm 121  UMH 844

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

The psalm appears to be set in the context of a pilgrimage.  The psalmist looks to the hills, which may be Mount Zion, God’s holy mountain and the place of the temple.  Presumably it is not an easy journey, and the opening verse cries out a stark question, “From where will my help come?” On a gut level, we know what it means to lift our eyes to the hills in search of help. Inevitably we have all made this cry at challenging times in our lives.

It is a hard to accept that the Lord is my keeper as it is to accept that the Lord loves me, but these two facts are intertwined. That is the key to understanding not merely what the Lord does for us, but why God’s love is the very foundation of God’s trustworthiness.  God loves us, and therefore God keeps us.

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Abraham Justified by Faith

4 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”[a]

17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.”[a] He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

Paul provides a scriptural proof at verse 3 to demonstrate that the faith of Abraham is the means through which he was credited with righteousness: “Abram believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”.

In verses 4-5 the gift of righteousness is contrasted with the payment of earned wages, which are obligated because of “works”.   In contrast, Abram’s righteousness was not something he had earned by reason of his good deeds; rather, it was something freely given to him, solely on the basis of his faith.

An implicit message in the church and an explicit message in our society conspire to lead people to believe they will be entitled to God’s love and worthy of God’s love only if they earn it.

The heart and soul of this text is the proclamation of the unmerited grace that comes from God to us.

Think about this:

The God revealed in Jesus, bringing salvation to all who will accept it, is the same God revealed in Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and Esther.  The unique nature of Jesus will be seen as a unique revelation of the One God who is also revealed in many other places and ways.  Salvation, then, is through the revelation and work of God.

If Paul is correct in saying that Jews and Christians share the same faith and are at least spiritual descendants of Abraham, then the first tragedy was the division between the synagogue and the church.  Clearly the differences are perceived as greater than any common heritage.

Orthodox Judaism saw Abraham as keeping the law by anticipation and therefore in accord with the Mosaic tradition: Paul saw Abraham as preceding the law and therefore saved by faith.  The common thread is interpreted differently, depending on the community in which it is read.

Ignoring differences of dumbing down belief to avoid conflict does not provide sufficient intellectual support in today’s world.

What appears to be needed is humility, recognition that “our truth” may not be the ultimate truth about God:  a commitment to unity,   recognition that love does not depend on uniformity but welcomes a diversity of gifts; and a priority for mission, coming together with all our diversity, sharing gifts to reach out to those who need Good News.

God’s grace is evident in God’s choice to love us, which sets us in a right relationship with God.

So, we are inspired to say that the Christian life does not consist of doing good works to earn God’s love; rather, and wonderfully, it consist of doing good works because of God’s love and our love for Him and what He has done for us.

John 3:1-17

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]

In John’s gospel there are two major images:  one is light and the other is darkness.  Nicodemus emerges out of the night’s darkness, seeking light from the teacher he believes to be sent from God.

Just as suddenly as he appears, Nicodemus disappears back into the night from whence he came.  Before he does so, Jesus tells him one must be born anew in order to see the kingdom of God, and the last we hear from Nicodemus is, “How can this be?” (V.9).

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? \

A few verses down….

Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done of God” (V.21).  IT will take Nicodemus a long time – until 19:38-42 to come once and for all out of the night and into the light.

What does it mean to be born from above and to believe in Jesus?

To be born from above by water and the Spirit, to believe in Jesus, is to leave the darkness and to come into the light (v.19).

What does it mean to live either in darkness or in light?  Those who live in the darkness and hate the light do so because their evil deeds will be exposed. (v.20)  To come into the light – to be born from above – is to do “what is right”(21), to follow the one who is himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6).

For many Christians, the gospel is summarized by the words in John 3:16

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life..

Some Christians. However, understand faith or “believing in Jesus” to be simply what one does with one’s mind.

In John’s Gospel, being born from above and believing in Jeus are clearly not so much about what one does with one’s mind as about what one does with one’s heart and one’s life.

Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done of God” (V.21). 

In John’s Gospel believing and doing are inseparable.  Nicodemus lives in the darkness and the shadows of this story until its conclusion, when he emerges Publicly with Joseph of Arimathea, who is also a “secret disciple,” to bury Jesus.

Have you only assented with Your Mind the Jesus is Lord.

Or have you Taken The Step of Faith and Accepted Jesus as Your Lord Publicly.

Do Not Doubt God's Word

Sermon March 9 2014               Do Not Doubt God’s Word

Genesis 2:15-17 AND 3:1-7

You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.

But the serpent said to the woman, “ You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

This story is often interpreted theologically in terms of temptation, “fall,” sin, and death.

Human kind is placed in the garden of God’s creation to “till and keep it.”  The Creator who gives life also gives meaning and purpose to life.  We are called to serve as caretakers in God’s creation – STEWARDS of a world we did not make and can receive only as a gift held in trust.

The freedom of God ordains is expansive but not boundless.  There are limits to the exercise of our creaturely freedom.

What is the “tree of knowledge of good and evil,” and what becomes of the threat that “in the day that you eat of it you shall die?”  In the first serious theological conversation in Scripture, the woman is asked by the “crafty” serpent, “ Did God (REALLY) say, “ You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?” (V.3:1).

The way the question is asked makes God seem unreasonable. The Seed of Doubt is planted.

Eve goes beyond what God said.  When we add to the Word of God or take away from the Word of God that is where we begin to shift away from the Will of God.

Eve responded: “We may eat of the frut of the trees in the garden; but God said, “ You shall not eat of the fruit that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die”.  With the harmless bit of exaggeration the serpent strikes.  “ You will not die…..Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:4-5).

“Good and Evil” is not a matter of ethical discernment.  It is the desire to make ourselves the judges of good and evil, assuming for ourselves the role of God. ( I m gonna have it My Way.)

What does God Know?  Teenagers think : What do my parents Know?  What does my boss know?  What does my husband know?   You get the picture.

Think for yourself. Act for yourself.  Do not let anyone, even God, define for you what is good and evil.

Too often it leads not to wisdom and authentic liberation, but to messy divorces, to shouting matches between parents and children, to willful disregard of the needs and feelings of others, to chaos in the church, and to degradation of the environment.

One does not have to look far to find examples of how our life together is undermined by the refusal to accept the gracious limits of Gods truly liberating grace.

The Torah (instruction) of God is intended for the well-being of the “image bearing creature” to whom God has entrusted the stewardship of creation.

There is a story here that makes for the flourishing of life in community, there is already in the story a note of gospel that echoes throughout Scripture.

In God’s sovereign freedom, God responds to human disobedience, not with the full weight of judgment, but with Unexpected Mercy.

Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Rom. 5:20)

If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36)

Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another (Gal. 5:13).

Psalm 32 UMH 766

From the Message

 Let me give you some good advice;
    I’m looking you in the eye
    and giving it to you straight:

“Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule
    that needs bit and bridle
    to stay on track.”

10 God-defiers are always in trouble;
    God-affirmers find themselves loved
    every time they turn around.

11 Celebrate God.
    Sing together—everyone!
    All you honest hearts, raise the roof


Romans 5: 12-19

If because of  the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ

Paul is concerned to identify the nature and the extent of the human dilemma.  Human beings are beset with sin and death in a way that runs both deeper and wider than we might expect.

Having established  that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23); taken up again in (5:12), Paul is now concerned to give an account of the full scope and effects of sin.

His main point is that sin was introduced and somehow passed on to the entire human race by Adam, our first parent, so that we were all “made sinners” as a result of Adam’s Disobedience.

Therefore, Sin is the result of the first sin of Adam.  This is Paul’s chief statement of what Augustine called  “ Original Sin”.  John Wesley also points out this fact called “Original Sin”.

Christ did not die just for us to make some improvements.

He died to save us from a mortal disease that lies at the core of our being, affecting all of our thoughts, words, and deeds, and corrupting human society as a whole.

Matthew  4: 1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

It is written…..

1) One does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that come from the mouth of God.

2)Do not put the Lord Your God to the test.

3)Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Jesus used the Word of God to defeat Satan during his temptation. Jesus warned us of Satan’s tactics in the parable of the sower ( Mark 4:14-20):

14 The sower soweth the word.

15 And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.

16 And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;

17 And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended.

18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,

19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.

20 And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.

The Word of God has the power to bring itself to pass. Satan tries to steal that word out of your heart. He has five things he uses to steal the Word from you –

  1. Persecution, 2)affliction, 3)the cares of this world, 4) the deceitfulness of riches, 5)the lusts of other things.

That one, the evil one, the serpent, Satan, the Devil  is still whispering his enticing suggestions to Christian people and institutions today. Many find his ideas attractive.

One of the greatest deceptions of satan is to convince you that he don’t exist. That message is being preached in many pulpits. That the devil and hell do not exist.  I have heard that message over and over in the 12 years I have been involved in churches in Montana and Wyoming.

Lenten penitence engages the dark places in our lives that we may come face to face with them, name them, understand them, and seek forgiveness for them.  It is not about guilt. It is about freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities have over us all, about the amendment of life and new beginnings.

Victory belongs to those who will follow Jesus through temptation and fight the devil with the Word of God.  Jesus showed us how to have that victory in our lives.  IT is written.

Do not doubt the Word of God. Amen.

Hymn of reflection UMH  377  IT is Well with My Soul