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11-26 Humanity of Jesus

Today, marks the first Sunday of Advent.  But what does that mean?  The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word, Adventus, which means “the approach” or “the arrival.”  For Christians, of course, Advent is the time in which we anticipate the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  What we celebrate is the singular event of God, who is divine and exists outside of creation, coming into creation, unto the earth, in human form, to become a being who subject to elements common to each and every one of us. We celebrate that the Son of God came to earth as the Son of Man, as the Gospel writer John said He became “flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).  I wonder at times whether we have heard those words, or words like them, so often that we no longer take in the fullness of those words.

God has always existed and was never subject to conditions and dimensions of His own creation.  With Advent, we begin our celebration of God’s decision to enter His own creation as one of us, as a human.  This God-human being would retain an inner essence of God, never losing His divine nature, but He would at the same time take on the outer fragility of human life, being subject to hunger and thirst, cold and heat, physical comfort as well as pain and death itself.  In many ways, the idea of the Son of God and Son of Man breaks the back of words.  I think Isaiah came closest to describing who this person would be when he wrote,”6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  We would come to know this Son of God and Son of Man as Jesus of Nazareth. Today, I would like to focus on the significance of the humanity of Jesus, the Son of Man.

What might we say about the humanity of Jesus?  We can say that in Jesus’ day, people had little difficulty accepting the humanity of Jesus.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  People were there to see that birth.  Jesus had a woman who was called his mother and a man who was called his father. Jesus physically grew up in his hometown of Nazareth.  Jesus was known as a young boy able to hold deep conversations with scholars and teachers about the Scriptures in the Temple of Jerusalem.  Jesus ate food and drank wine.  Jesus slept.  Jesus wept. Jesus bled.  Jesus died.  It was easy for people who saw Jesus to believe that Jesus was a man.  What was more difficult in Jesus’ time was for people who saw Jesus was to believe that Jesus was divine, that Jesus was Son of God. In fact, it was so hard for some people to believe Jesus was the Son of God that they killed him to prove to themselves that Jesus was just a man.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, people of the early church began to believe that Jesus not a man after all, but Jesus was only God.  He appeared in be human form but was not himself human at all.  Others though that Jesus was only God, and that Mary was a surrogate, contributing nothing but giving birth to God.  Others said Jesus was God and man, but Mary must also have been born supernaturally and remained sinless, otherwise Jesus would have acquired Mary’s sin at his own birth from a naturally conceived mother.  There are, it seems, a near endless variation of stories and theories about whose birth we are celebrating.

We Baptist have our own take on Advent and the birth of Jesus. Our approach is quite simple.  Our approach is to ask, “What does the Bible say?” and then say, “I will choose to believe what the Bible says.”  What would we then read?

  • “14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).  A virgin will conceive, become impregnated like all other women but in a supernatural manner.  Her child will be a boy.
  • “6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  The boy will be seen as God.
  • An angel said to the virgin, 35, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).  The boy born to a virgin will be the Son of God and the Son of Man.

Baptists are simple folk.  We accept what the Bible says.  This boy will be both the Son of God and the Son of Man.  He will be born of a human mother who was made pregnant by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Now, isn’t that much easier to accept what God says?

          But why does it matter that this boy, Jesus, was the Son of Man?  Again, we return to the Bible.  In the New Testament letter we call Hebrews, the writer says, “5 It is not to angels that he [God] has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6 But there is a place [Old Testament – Psalm 8:4-6] where someone has testified: ‘What is mankind [humans] that you [God] are mindful of them, a son of man [those born human] that you [God] care for him?  7 You [God] made them a little lower than the angels [human]; you [God] crowned them with glory and honor 8 and put everything under their feet.”  In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them [humans]. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. 9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while [divine made human], now crowned with glory and honor because he [Jesus] suffered death, so that by the grace of God he [Jesus] might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:5-9).

          Now that is a lot in just a few verses, but we as Baptists are happy to receive a lot if what we are receiving comes from God’s Word.  To receive a lot from the Bible is not a burden, not like it is when in school we receive a lot from a teacher.  Instead, to receive a lot from the Bible is a joy.  What did we receive?  There are four things we should bear in mind.

          First, humanity was created by a caring God. That means our life begins with joy in knowing God cares.  Humans were crowned with glory and honor and we were given dominion over the earth.  We are not here by accident or because we evolved from some troop of apes through a process of nature.  We are the crowning achievement created by God.

          Second, God caused Jesus to come into the world, and for a time caused Jesus to join humanity before Jesus returned to His place of glory and honor in heaven.

          Third, and this is an important point.  Third, God caused Jesus to come into the world, to become human, so that God in human form, could suffer and experience death. Death is not experienced in heaven. It is only experienced on earth. Jesus came to experience the harsh reality of death as a human.  That’s heavy stuff and we will talk more about that in a minute.

          Finally, the fourth thing we accept from Scripture, and we understand that our celebration of Advent brings to us, is that Jesus, the Son of God, was made lower than the angels for a little while, made the Son of Man, so that Jesus could suffer a human death, and in doing so, became the way for us to receive God’s redeeming grace.  Jesus’ death brought us grace.  We will talk more about that as well.

          Four things that we must consider from the Bible alone.  We are created and loved by God.  Jesus was born human.  Jesus died a human death.  Jesus came into his glory again and is now the way of redemption by and through God’s grace.  There is a lot to the Christmas story.

          The writer of Hebrews went further concerning Jesus’ birth and death on humanity.  He wrote, “10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory [In redeeming people to God], it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their [human] salvation [Jesus] perfect through what he [Jesus] suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy [Jesus] and those who are made holy [saved people] are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them [saved people] brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 2:10-11).  This is a crucial bit of Scripture for it tells us that those people who come into God’s presence do so only through Jesus because Jesus makes them holy.  The effect of Jesus’ birth as a human and subsequent death was to make a way for people to be holy again, meaning purified from sin.  To be brought into the presence of God does not happen because you were a good person, or kind, or charitable, or that you attended a Baptist, Roman Catholic, or Non-denominational church.  To be brought into the presence of God happens because you were made holy by Jesus and that Jesus calls you brother or sister.  Those are not my words, or those of some Baptist book or website.  Those words we have plainly seen come directly from the Bible.  God makes clear that we are free to accept those words or reject those words but the one thing we are not permitted to do is change those words.

          So our Advent celebration brings with it an understanding that the Son of God came into the world as the Son of God and the Son of Man, bearing the name Jesus. And in that coming into the world, Jesus did so to die, making the way to come into God’s eternal presence by being saved and being made holy by God’s grace.  This is what is occurring through the birth and death of Jesus. But why is it happening?

          The writer of Hebrews helps us there and gives us an answer as to why this is all happening.  Let’s look at verses 14 through 17 of chapter 2.  “14 Since the children have flesh and blood [people], he [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his [Jesus’] death he [Jesus] might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he [Jesus] helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he [Jesus] had to be made like them [the people], fully human in every way, in order that he [Jesus] might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he [Jesus] might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:14-17).

          The birth of Jesus was as we said it was in the beginning.  God, who was and is outside his creation, entered his creation, but God did so to engage in a spiritual battle against the devil of this world. The battle was to save those people seeking God.  This is why the Gospel of John describes Jesus coming into the world as a light shining in the darkness and as true light, not the false light of Satan (John 1:4, 9).  In the same Gospel of John, we would later and again read, “19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil (John 3:19). The coming of Jesus into the world was like light coming into a completely dark room and that light was a signal to all that a spiritual battle had begun.  God had invaded territory the enemy, Satan.  The invasion from God would overwhelm Satan and would once and for all time break the power of Satan has over the people.  That happened by Christ dying for everyone, to pay for their sins, your sins and my sins, once and for all time.  After the completion of that death, Jesus would be restored to his full glory and status in heaven pioneering the way, blazing the trail, for others to follow to God.  Jesus, because he was made in human form, would move us from darkness, sin, enslavement, and fearful to be holy and set apart again for God.  That is why Jesus was born.

          It is important for us to see the necessity that Jesus was human as well as God.  Jesus, the Son of God, came in human form to experience human life and human death and for the people to see him back into life again. Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection to life again breaks human fear of death, it breaks the grip that sin has on our life, because are no longer deceived and now clearly see that all life, now and eternally, is guaranteed by Jesus.  This is what we celebrate in the Advent season, that the humanity of Jesus changed the world.  Have you allowed the humanity of Jesus to change you?  Let us pray.

11-19 Lord of the Harvest

          This Thursday, our nation will celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  As a nation, we will gather and consume great quantities of food, turkey, all the fixings, and pies.  We will watch on television the Macy’s Day parade, a football game or two, we will sleep, and then some will venture out late at night to see if they can capture a deal on some new merchandise at a Black Friday sale.  This is our modern-day Thanksgiving Day.

          Now most people are familiar with the "First Thanksgiving." In 1621, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts celebrated their first harvest.  The Pilgrims held a feast; inviting the Wampanoag Indians, who had helped them adapt and survive, to join the feast. The Pilgrim's Thanksgiving in 1621 was more than likely a continuation of a traditional harvest feast they had experienced in Europe, then it was a time to celebrate God’s provision.  When the Pilgrims wanted to be particularly expressive of their thankfulness to God they fasted, they stopped eating, so that they could devote themselves to praise and prayer.

          Later in our history, Presidents George Washington and James Madison each asked for the nation to celebrate a day of thanksgiving. But it was not until 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that set-in motion the annual celebration of a Thanksgiving Day.  There is no mention in Lincoln’s proclamation about feasts, parades, football, sleeping, or shopping.  Lincoln then said this: “It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”  Lincoln also asked the people of the United States to pray that God would “heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

The Thanksgiving Day Lincoln envisioned was focused upon the entire nation pausing for one day to acknowledge God’s blessings amid the strife of a civil war.  It was a call for the nation to praise God for what God had done through His mercy. It was a call for the nation to pray for those who were suffering and to pray that God would heal the wounds of the nation so that all could enjoy peace, harmony, tranquility, and union. For Lincoln, Thanksgiving Day was not about food, it was about the work being done by the God, being done by God, and would be done by God, the Lord of the Harvest.

          We come to understand the fullness of work of the Lord of the Harvest that Lincoln contemplated by reading the Bible.  Our New Testament reading from the Gospel of John is a particularly good place for us to understand the work of the Lord of the Harvest and a response of thanksgiving.  In the fourth chapter of John, we would read the Jesus and his disciples stopped at a well that had been first established by Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.  After stopping at the well, Jesus sent his disciples into the neighboring Samaritan town for food.  This was the first time since Jesus called the disciples that Jesus sent them on their own. It was also at this point, as Jesus’ disciples had departed that a Samaritan woman came to the well with a jar to draw water to bring home. In John’s gospel, we are provided a wonderful dialogue between Jesus and this Samaritan woman, and I encourage you to read that passage from beginning to end.  As you do, you will come to see that the last words that Jesus and the Samaritan woman exchanged were these, “25 The woman said [to Jesus], ‘I know that Messiah’ (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’   26 Then Jesus declared [to the woman], ‘I, the one speaking to you—I am he’” (John 4:25-26).  This is a dramatic conclusion and revelation by Jesus that He is the one anointed by God to bring the message of salvation. The Samaritan woman understood the significance of Jesus’ announcement.  There are many sermons that can be derived from Jesus’ encounter with this woman.  But today, I would like us to begin at the end of that encounter.  And that ending began with Jesus’ announcement that He was the Messiah and the near simultaneous return of Jesus’ disciples from the town to the well.

          John wrote, “27 Just then his [Jesus’] disciples returned and were surprised to find him [Jesus] talking with a woman [a Samaritan woman no less]. But no one [none of Jesus’ disciples] asked [the woman], “What do you want?” or [asked Jesus] “Why are you talking with her?”  I suspect that no one needed to ask these questions because likely the questions, each of which contained an air of condemnation, were written on the faces of Jesus’ disciples.  We can say a lot with facial expressions.  I think the woman got the point that as far as Jesus’ disciples were concerned it was time for her to leave.

          John continued, “28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’” The woman, left in haste leaving behind her water jar, went to the town and began giving her testimony to her neighbors by acknowledging a sign that this man at the well knew everything about her. Who could know everything about another person except perhaps God?  Because of this sign in knowing everything, the woman asked her neighbors to consider the possibility that this man she met at the well could be the Messiah.  Jesus testified to this woman he was the Messiah, but she only offered in testimony to her neighbors the possibility that Jesus could be the Messiah.  We are left to wonder why she was not direct in share Jesus’ own testimony that He was the Messiah.  Regardless of the reasons, the Samaritan woman’s neighbors responded to her question of possibility, “Could this be the Messiah?”  And so John wrote, “30 They [the woman’s neighbors] came out of the town and made their way toward him [Jesus at Jacob’s well].”

          The Samaritan woman had done what needed to be done.  She stirred up the imagination of her neighbors to the possibility that God was at work in their lives.  She planted and made alive within them the seed of faith and now the people were responding to see if any of what she said could be true.  For if God was at work in their lives, then truly their lives would be blessed.

          John continued the story this way.  “31 Meanwhile [back at Jacob’s well] his [Jesus’] disciples urged him [Jesus], ‘Rabbi, eat something.’  32 But he [Jesus] said to them [Jesus’ disciples], ‘I have food to eat that you know nothing about.’  33 Then his [Jesus’] disciples said to each other, ‘Could someone have brought him food?’”  You imagine Jesus hanging his head just a bit, perhaps holding his head in his hands in disbelief at the denseness of his disciples thinking.

          Jesus broke the frustrating silence and answered, “34 ‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34).  Let’s pause here for a moment.  What is food?  We have Thanksgiving Day coming up in which tremendous quantities of food will be eaten, somewhere on average between 3,500 to 4,000 calories per person that day.  So food is any nutritious substance that people eat or drink to maintain life and growth.  Jesus’ disciples wanted Jesus to eat some food.  But Jesus said His food, what maintained Jesus’ life, was not to be found on a dinner table. Jesus’ food was to do the will of God who sent Jesus and to finish his work.  Jesus was perhaps harkening back to the Old Testament words that, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3b).  What truly sustained Jesus was God and God’s Word and not bread, or fish, or meat. What refreshed and renewed Jesus was not protein but the proclamation of God.  Jesus wanted his disciples to pay attention to the work of God that was all around them and for which Jesus was calling them to become part of doing.

          To shift the disciples’ attention away from perishable food and onto to the impressible food of God, Jesus said to them, “35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’?” (John 4:35). This is a rhetoric question that Jesus did not expect his disciples to answer because there was and is an understanding that in nature there was a measurable separation of time between when one plants seeds and one can expect to harvest a crop.  We know that when we start enjoying the fresh vegetables of the summer, that someone had to have planted seeds months beforehand.  But Jesus wanted his disciples to know that is not how the harvest of God works.

          John wrote, “35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’?  [But] I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together” (John 4;35-36).  I think as Jesus said those words, “Open your eyes and look at the fields,” Jesus was pointing to the road coming to the well that was now beginning to fill with people coming from the town to Jesus at the well.

          Jesus had had the encounter with the Samaritan woman and as soon as she heard the word that Jesus was the Messiah, she went at once to her neighbors sharing the word about Jesus and immediately her neighbors responded to come and see. The seed had been planted and the eternal harvest was about to happen all in a matter of minutes.  Jesus was glad at seeing the people coming out to him and so too would have been the sower, the Samaritan woman.

          Jesus continued with his disciples, “38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for” (John 4:38).  John said that Jesus sent the disciples into town for food.  And all the disciples came back with bread and perhaps some meat. These are the same disciples that when they met Jesus’ excited found their brothers and best friends and said, “Come and see we have found the Messiah!”  That was food from heaven in which the seed was planted and harvest happened within minutes.  Now when Jesus sent the same disciples for food, to do the will of God, not one of them shared with anyone in the neighboring town that the Messiah was at Jacob’s well.  Why did they not share what they knew to be the good news of the Messiah?  We are left to speculate.  Jesus concluded with his disciples saying, “’Others have [now] done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor’” (John 4:38b).

John concluded the story, “39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him [Jesus] because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’  40 So when the Samaritans came to him [Jesus], they urged him [Jesus] to stay with them, and he [Jesus] stayed two days. 41 And because of his [Jesus] words many more became believers.  42 They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man [Jesus] really is the Savior of the world’” (John 4:38b-42).

Now harvest described to us in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John is a Thanksgiving story of an eternal significance brought about by the food that never perishes, that is God’s Word. Jesus disciples thought Jesus’ mission to them in going into the town was about obtaining food upon which to feast and be satisfied for a few hours.  The Samaritan woman understood Jesus was about quenching a thirst and hunger that is eternal.  She spoke to as many people as she could and they sought out Jesus. 

What then shall we do with our upcoming harvest celebration, our next Thanksgiving Day story.  I think there are two things for us to consider. 

First, I would encourage you to enjoy the turkey dinner and family gatherings.  But we should remember that the food we eat that day, or any day, only sustains our bodies. What sustains our lives now and forever is the food God provides through His Word.  So as we feast on perishable food for our bodies let’s not neglect the sustaining food of God for living.  Let’s follow Abraham Lincoln’s charge to make the day a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to GodWhy should we do that?  If you believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, then be very thankful for you have been harvested into eternal life.  Give thanks to God that someone sowed the seeds of faith for you and you have been saved.

Second, I want to encourage you to look around at those people seated at your Thanksgiving Day table or those people you encounter elsewhere this week.  See that some of them do not know Jesus in any meaningful way.  People need to know the Lord and they need to know that you love them enough to share God’s Good News with them.  Be like the Samaritan woman and invite those who do not know God to join you in your joy for God.  Invite those who have become separated from the church to return.  With Advent approaching, we are entering a time of year in which the hearts of the people are stirred toward God.  Those seeds have been sown and it is up to you to reap the harvest. Invite those you know to join you at church.  Offer to pick them up.  If you have accepted Christ, then your food is to do the work of Christ.  Think how blessed and thankful you will be if God works through you to bring another soul to salvation or to bring a wounded Christian back to church.  We should rejoice and be thankful that we know Jesus and that we can share that Jesus is truly the Savior of the world.  Now that is harvest celebration, a Thanksgiving Day for which we can eternally thankful.  Amen and Amen.

11-12 - Grace Ain't Fair

          Isn’t it true that we all want life to be fair?  I can say with confidence that I have never met another person who said to me, “I insist that you treat me unfairly”  When we were kids and we had to share a candy bar with a brother or sister, we wanted the bar to be divided in half because that was only fair.  Of course, if we got more than half of the candy bar then we were okay with that as well.

          Afterall, isn’t it Biblical that life should be fair.  In the Old Testament we read, “19 Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury” (Leviticus 24:19-20).  This Old Testament law was intended to keep things fair.  When you sustained an injury, you could not demand a greater penalty from the offender than injury.  The law stipulated an eye for an eye, so as to prevent someone who lost an eye from taking the life of the one who caused the injury.  The law called for fairness and was intended to curb the natural desire for revenge.

          We want things in life to be fair.  But for many people, life or at least a part of life, has been or seems unfair.  People have suffered, and may still be suffering, some injury or loss because of the unfairness of another or the unfairness of circumstances.  Perhaps a loved one has died, and it feels terribly unfair that they died.  Perhaps they were laid off from a job and poor performing co-workers got to keep their jobs.  It was not right.  It was unfair.  Perhaps someone just cannot seem to get the government or an insurance company to correct a problem they have been experiencing and it is unfair that they are being penalized.  There are a great many reasons why moments and events in our life seem terribly unfair.

          I would like you to take a moment right now and think of the most unfair person in your life.  Now wait I said think about them.  I did not say look around the room to see if they were here today!  So think of the most unfair person you know.  Think about how they have not “played fair” and have not been in balance.  Do you have a good mental image of that person?  Now, I am guessing that everyone has a different person in mind which means there are a lot of unfair people in the world.  But what I wonder is shouldn’t we all have the same unfair person in mind?  Some of you might be say, “What did the pastor say?”  How can we all know the same unfair person?

          Well, let’s look at our thinking about fairness.  We think it is fair when someone treats us like we have treated them. We are good people, fair people, so when we treat people well and fairly, then we hope others will treat us well and fairly.  However, it would also be true that if we treated someone badly, then we should expect and accept that are within their rights to treat us equally badly in return because doing so would be fair.  The idea of an insult for an insult is fair even under the Old Testament law.  Do we see how fairness works?

          Now suppose someone responds to an insult with goodness.  Under the idea of insult for insult which is fair, to respond with goodness to an insult would mean the response was a different sort of unfair treatment.  Don’t get confused because we are about to transition from thinking in human terms to thinking like God.  

          In the way of God, unfair response is to give goodness, whether good is received or insult is received.  In the way of God, God unfairly gives without regards to the scales of giving ever being balanced.  In God’s way, God when wounded unfairly responds, and heals the wounds of the attacker. When we think like God, then we realize that we all know the same most unfair person there ever lived. His name is Jesus.

          Let’s see how it can be that Jesus was unfair in the way he responded.  Listen to Jesus’ words about being fairness and being unfair from our New Testament reading today.  Jesus was speaking to his disciples and said to them, 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).  Do you get the breathtaking sense that in the way of God, a response of grace and mercy instead of fairness and justice was what Jesus wanted from his disciples?  Jesus did not want his disciples to be fair.  Jesus wanted his disciples to have a special, Godly way of unfairness.

          Let’s look a little deeper.  Jesus began with talking to his disciples about fairness and justice when he quoted from the Old Testament saying, “38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’” (Matthew 5:38).  You can just picture Jesus waiting for his disciples to nod their heads in agreement with this ancient standard and agreeing, “Yes, we must be fair with one another.”  When everyone’s attention fixed on Jesus and the ancient standard of fairness was firmly in their minds, Jesus then said that all important word in the Bible, “But.”  Remember to circle and underline in your Bible the word “But” because that word means something important is about to be said, “39 But I [Jesus] tell you [my disciples], do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, [don’t be fair and hit them on the right cheek but instead give a Godly unfair response and] turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, [give a Godly unfair response and] hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, [give a Godly unfair response and] go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:39-41).  Jesus was calling on his disciples to not be fair and trade insult for insult.  Instead, Jesus wanted his disciples to abolish that ancient standard they had in their minds and give goodness in response to insult.

          You can just imagine the astonished looks on the faces of Jesus disciples as the full weight of what Jesus said had begun falling upon them. Jesus wanted his disciples to exchange goodness for insult.  How in the world could they do such a thing?  Why in the world would they want to do such a thing?  Where did Jesus get such an idea of exchanging goodness for insult?

          Where did Jesus get that?  Jesus got that from God’s Word, s Bible such as is found in the prophesy of Isaiah concerning the coming Messiah, concerning Jesus himself.  In Chapter 50, Isaiah wrote of the Messiah, “6 I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.  7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.  Therefore, I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame” (Isaiah 50:6-7).  In Isaiah 53, we would also read of the Messiah, “4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).  The Messiah rather than respond against insult with insult would respond with goodness by taking upon himself the penalty owed by others.  Jesus’ call upon his disciples to exchange goodness for insult was a foreshadowing of what Jesus would do for his disciples.  When it would have been fair for Jesus to strike back with an eye for eye, Jesus would be unfair in a Godly sense and an offer goodness in exchange for each wound he received.

          I am not sure the disciples would have understood the fullness of Jesus’ words.  I am not sure I fully understand the full weight of Jesus’ words.  Jesus was calling upon his disciples to be merciful, not fair.  Jesus was calling on his disciples to be gracious, not fair.  So radical was Jesus’ call that Jesus immediately expressed his call to his disciples again this way, “43 You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45).  Jesus was explaining to his disciples how to act like God with mercy and grace.  What is mercy?  Mercy is God withholding from us what we deserve for our insulting God.  Jesus was telling his disciples, now as a child of God, act with mercy and withhold from another what they deserve because of their insult to you.  What is Grace?  Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve based on our behavior. Jesus was now saying to his disciples since you are children of God give grace to those who do not deserve it, who in no way earned it.  Mercy is taking care of what is there, and grace is taking care of what is not there. There is no fairness in what Jesus was calling his disciples to do because Jesus did not intend to give them what they deserved or only the grace they had earned.

          Over and again, Jesus challenged his disciples to be merciful.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Mt 5:7)
  • But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ (Mt 9:13 & 12:7)
  •  “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mk 5:19)

Jesus continued to explain to his disciples what he asked in this manner.  46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:46-48).

Jesus was describing fairness as sinners see fairness.  Jesus was describing fairness the way the world sees fairness.  The best the world can do is make fairness mean equal; good for good, and bad for bad. Jesus was saying God who is perfect gives better than that, God gives mercy where justice is due and grace where condemnation is earned.  Now, Jesus said, “Seek to perfect like God.”

          Jesus displayed that the perfection of God.  The Apostle Paul taught the church see what Jesus did, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6,8). Paul wanted the church, you and me, to know that Christ did not treat us fairly.  Jesus did not give good because he received good.  He did not give righteousness because we deserved it.  Jesus gave us righteousness at the very moment we were his enemies.  When Jesus was being nailed to the cross, Jesus begged God for the forgiveness (mercy and grace) to those holding the nails and swinging the hammer.  We can think of sin as nails and hammer blows to Christ on the cross. 

I cannot imagine my fate if God dealt fairly with me.  And so, when I consider the mercy that I have received for what is there, sin, and the grace I have received for what is not there, unrighteousness, I am convicted that I must not be humanly fair toward others but must be God like with mercy and grace and forgiveness towards others.  The Apostle Paul gave us some help with how to act.  Paul wrote, “12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:12-13).  If God has treated me this way, who am I to withhold such a gift of mercy, grace, and forgiveness from another.  Think of the impact each of us can have by genuinely receiving the gift of grace and sharing it with a world that, at best, can give good when good is received and bad when bad is received.  Let us then go and share with each other and those around that special sort of Godly response to unfairness expressed with the power of mercy and grace we have received from God through Jesus Christ.  Amen and Amen.

11-05 Philip

As we have discussed during the last couple of weeks, I want us to explore the lives of some New Testament people and to see their lives through their encounters with Christ.  We spoke about Mary Magdalene and Onesimus.  Today I would like us to look at man, one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles, a man named Philip.

We learn about Philip through the Gospel of John and Philips story began with the scene of John the Baptist along the river Jordan.  Philip was drawn to John the Baptist as John preached and baptized.  Philip was in the company of other men from Philip’s hometown also drawn to the river Jordan. Specifically, Philip was with two other men, Andrew and Andrew’s brother Peter, both of whom would become Jesus’ Apostles.  Philip, Andrew, and Peter were from the same town of Bethsaida (Bet’ – say – da).  The name of the town meant “house of fishing” which seems appropriate for the disciples and their profession as fishermen.

Philip, being around John the Baptist, suggests that Philip was someone who was searching for a deeper meaning to his beliefs.  Jesus was present at river Jordan at the same time Philip, Andrew, and Peter were present.  Jesus had just been baptized by John.  Philip must have caught the attention of Jesus because Scripture tells us, “The next day [that is after Jesus’ baptism] Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me’”(John 1:43).  Jesus’ call suggests Jesus knew Philip when Jesus same, “Follow me.”  Here the Greek to “follow” means “to be in the same way”, “to become the one who is doing the calling. 

John does not record for us, Philip’s verbal response to Jesus’ invitation to follow him.  Instead, John gave us Philip’s behavioral response to Jesus’ invitation.  John wrote, “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:44-45).

Philip’s behavioral response gives us a sense that Philip was excited about having been called by Jesus and Philip intended to follow Jesus. Moreover, Philip’s excitement was such that Philip wanted to share the news with someone who must have been close to Philip, namely – Nathanael and for Nathanael to come with Jesus. 

Philip’s news to Nathanael was for the people of that time breathtaking. Philip told Nathanael “We” have found the one - the Prophet spoken about by Moses.  We must take that in for a moment.  For thousands of years, the Hebrew people held fast to the words of Moses and particularly that there would come a man, the prophet, anointed by God as the Messiah to bring about the restoration of Israel.  Now, here in this obscure place in the wilderness Philip told Nathanael, we have found the anointed one promised through Moses when Moses shared God’s intention, “18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him” (Deuteronomy 18:18).  Philip wanted to make sure Nathanael, someone important to Philip, was the first to know the news.

If we paused here for a moment, what might we say or conclude about Philip and Philip’s faith walk thus far?  The first thing we learn is that Philip had been responsive to the stirring within him to seek the deeper truth of God.  Philip wanted to know God and to be right with God.  Philip traveled from home to be in the presence of John the Baptizer who called for repentance.  Repentance here means to turn from your own ways and instead follow God.  What I find remarkable about this part of Philip’s experience is that it is unremarkable.  I believe that everyone (Philip, you, and me) have within us a stirring to know the truth of God.  The deeply spiritual person, like Philip, wanted to know the truth of God.  Even a devote atheist presented with the opportunity to be given the absolute truth about God would jump at that chance to hear the truth, at least out of curiosity.  So the opening here about Philip is unremarkable because God calls everyone to come closer to him.  God is always stirring us up.  What we do with those God inspired stirrings matters and can be quite remarkable. Will we choose to ignore those stirrings and hope they go away, or do we respond in some manner to those God inspired stirrings?

What made Philip’s experience remarkable was that Philip was humble enough and hungry enough to be open to God’s leading.  Philip did not ignore the stirrings, instead, Philip wanted to understand the leading of the Spirit and follow the call on his life. We need to do likewise and pursue God with humility and a hunger.

The second thing we can learn about Philip was that Philip wanted to share with those closest to him what God had revealed.  When Jesus found Philip and asked Philip to follow him, Philip immediately went and found his friend, Nathanael.  Philip must have cared more about Nathanael, also a seeker, coming to know Jesus than Philip cared about what Nathanael might say in response to Philip’s news.  Philip’s behavior raises a question for us.  Do we care more about a family member or more about a friend coming to follow Jesus or do we care more about avoiding the possibility they reject us for sharing the good news about Jesus?  Do we care more about them or the risk of getting our feelings hurt?

I suspect Philip knew Nathanael well and expected Nathanael to be skeptical of Philip’s good news.  When Philip told Nathanael about Jesus and that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathanael replied, “Nazareth!  Can anything good come from there?”  Nathanael was showing his prejudice and sharp tongue.  However, Philip was undeterred.  Philip took no personal sense of rejection from Nathanael’s comment. Instead, Philip responded by simply saying, “Come and see.” 

Philip has given us the best response to rejection of the invitation. Calmly and with the peace of Christ, Philip simply said, “Come and see” then decide for yourself.  We all can follow Philip’s example - invite people we care about to come and see the Lord.  Each of us has a Nathanael in our life, that skeptic.  We have someone in mind that does not know the Lord, or we have someone who has not been with him lately.  However, are we like Philip who was willing to find that friend and say, “I want you to come with me to be with the Lord – won’t you just come and see?” I leave you to ponder that question as you think about your own Nathanael.

We see Philip again later in Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus and his disciples were in the vicinity of Bethsaida. A great crowd of people had followed Jesus because the crowds saw the miraculous signs Jesus had performed on the sick.  In the Gospel of John, we learn, “When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He [Jesus] asked this only to test him [Philip], for he [Jesus] already had in mind what he [Jesus] was going to do” (John 6:5-6).

Jesus’ question was a natural to ask of Philip since Philip was from that region. Jesus asked Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" But Philip does not answer the question. Instead, Philip’s response was "A month’s wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite."  Philip’s response told us what Philip was thinking, “Why discuss where to buy the bread when we do not have enough money to buy all that would be needed for a crowd of this size?”  Jesus understood that the disciples could not buy enough bread.  Jesus wanted Philip to consider the task of feeding people could only be done through faithful dependence on God.  Jesus was also teaching Philip to expand his minded and come to understand that Jesus was far greater than any prophet spoken about in the Old Testament.  Jesus had performed miracles for many and now intended to show that there was no limit to the power available to Christ.  Philip’s response suggests that he had not yet grasped who was in his presence.

We can learn from Philip that God will place opportunities before us to expand our understanding of his love for us and his capacity to provide for us. Do we, like Philip, miss these opportunities because we are too interested the nitty gritty details of how we will do things and not depend upon God?  Faith requires that we proceed one step at a time without knowing with certainty how the journey will be completed but only knowing that the one who guides us loves us. Look today for the opportunities God is giving you to act in faith.

I want to finish up with one last encounter with Philip, again from the Gospel of John.  Jesus told his disciples that he would soon be leaving them and going to a place where they could not follow him.  “Thomas said to him [Jesus], ‘Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.  From now on, you know him and have seen him’” (John 14:5-7). 

This is a very important passage.  Jesus is using the very powerful "I am" statement.  He said, "I am the way".  Following in his way does not just mean physically but it means following what I have revealed to you.  It means you need to desire the things Jesus’ desires, live and love as he lived and loved. This is the direction Jesus is calling us to follow and that in doing so we will come into the presence of the eternal loving God.  

Philip now entered the scene for his final act: “Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us’” (John 14:8).  These are the last words we have attributed to Philip. “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”  In response, Jesus said, somewhat painfully but patiently, "Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say ‘show me the Father?’  Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?  The words I say to you are not just my own.  Rather, it is the Father, living in me who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:9-11a).

So what can we learn about Philip through this encounter?  Philip had developed some faith that he would be fine if he could see the Father and Philip knew that Jesus could show him the Father. However, Philip still thought Jesus was strictly human, Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph’s son, the Prophet.  Philip did not understand, did not comprehend the miracles, the teachings, and the love Jesus had shown as evidence that Jesus was God living among the apostles.  Philip, as well as the other apostles, had seen the Father.

We should not be too harsh on Philip lack of understanding for at times we seem to behave in the same manner.  At times, we do not see that Christ has shown us who the God is.  We need to understand that Jesus is in the Father, the Father is in him.  When we believe that, then Jesus says he will be is in us, and we are in him. Through his grace, we then can come into the presence of God the Father.  Philip understood that Jesus could show him the Father.  Philip just did not understand that Jesus had already done so.  Do we understand that?  Do we see in Christ his revelation of the nature and the character of God?  When we do, we come to realize how awesome and wonderful God is and therefore, we should want to follow Jesus in that we become like Him.

Today we have seen Christ through the eyes of one of his disciples, Philip. We have seen Philip is a man seeking Christ, a man willing to share the good news of his discovery with those that he loved.  We came to see Philip also has a man who was growing in his faith and learning to rely upon the grace of God.  Though Philip did not fully understand Jesus, Philip knew that all things were possible through Jesus.  May God grant us the humility, the wisdom, the courage, and the grace to be a maturing disciple willing to invite others to come and see.   Amen.

10-22 - Mary Magdalene

          I thought it might be profitable for us to take a few weeks to look at the lives of some characters from the Bible.  Looking through the life of another, we gather encouragement for our lives.  I would like to begin our series today with a woman we know from the New Testament as Mary Magdalene.

          Mary Magdalene is one of those exceptional characters.  Mary is exceptional because more has been written about Mary Magdalene in the four gospels than is written about a few of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus.  We hear nothing of Jesus’ Apostles named Simon the Zealot, James the son of Alpheus, or Thaddeus.  But we do here of Mary Magdalene in 13 accounts across all four gospels.

          Mary Magdalene is an exceptional character because she has been written about extensively in every age from the early church through the Middle Ages and into modern day.  The vast majority of what has been written about Mary Magdalene is in error or is just pure fiction.  One of the most glaring examples of erroneous stories of Mary comes from the Roman Catholic Church.  On April 25, 590, in a sermon, Pope Gregory I declared Mary Magdalene was a prostitute who repented before the presence of Jesus.  Labels given to people stick and for centuries Mary was portrayed in song, poetry, art, and literature as a prostitute.  The Roman Catholic Church did not change its view of Mary Magdalene until 1969.  Other ancient and modern writings claim that Jesus did not die on the cross but was revived in the tomb.  After being revived, Jesus and Mary Magdalene became husband and wife and settled down to live a quiet life together.

          Who then was Mary Magdalene of the Bible and what might we learn from her?  In short, Mary was an unwavering witness whose enduring testimony was that Jesus had risen from the dead and was rightfully her Lord and Savior.  I say those words as high praise and words that each of us would welcome hearing said of us.

          How did the story of Mary begin?  Mary’s story begins in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 8. Jesus was in and around the countryside of Galilee.  He had been to Capernaum and then to Nain.  Luke wrote, “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve [The Twelve Apostles] were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means” (Luke 8:1-3).

          Luke gave us our first reference into the life of Mary (called Magdalene).  Mary was a woman who had been exceptionally ill.  Luke said Mary was demon-possessed by seven different demons.  Every person we encounter in the New Testament who was possessed by demons was in grave condition.  Luke described a young boy, likely Jewish, possessed by a demon who would scream suddenly, go into convulsions, foam at the mouth, and would be involuntarily thrown to the ground by the impure spirit.  Luke also described a demon possessed man, likely a pagan, who had to be bound with chains, yet the man had the strength to break those chains.  The man lived in a cemetery screaming and shrieking throughout the night.  When Jesus healed this man, the man begged to go with Jesus.  But Jesus sent the man away saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:39).

We do not know the manifestation of demon-possession of Mary, but we do know that Mary would have been unable to function in life and considered by her family and friends to be beyond hope.  Yet somewhere in Jesus’ travels from village to village, Jesus encountered Mary, perhaps in the Galilean Jewish village of Magdala, from which she receives the name Mary Magdalene.  Adding the name of Mary’s town to Mary’s identity was important because at this time ¼ of all women in Galilee were named Mary.  Another ¼ of all women were named Salome.  It was in that encounter somewhere in Galilee that Jesus drove the seven demons out of Mary.  And like the man who was cured of demon-possession, Mary must have begged Jesus to allow her to go with him on his journey.  This time, it appears, that Jesus said, “Yes” and Mary became one, if not the first woman, who accompanied Jesus in his public ministry.  Mary had become a central witness to the ministry, the presence, and the power of Jesus Christ.  From a practical sense, we also learn that Mary used whatever resources she had or skills she had to provide financial support to help feed and house Jesus and others as they traveled.  Mary was “all in” for Jesus.

From this brief introduction to Mary Magdalene, we learn that Mary was once powerless to the forces of darkness and evil that entrapped her body, mind, and spirit. Yet in the presence of Jesus, the seven spirits had no choice but to flee.  Once the evil spirits were removed, Mary was again able to make decisions of her own free will.  But Jesus said there is at that moment of new freedom, a huge risk.  Jesus said, “43 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first” (Matthew 12:43-45a).  The impure spirits had been ejected from Mary, her house was in order, swept clean, and put in order.  Something or someone must fill that space to prevent the return of the impure spirits.  Mary, now able to make decisions of her own free will, invited Jesus into her life making her house, her life, occupied, full, and in order.  Jesus healed Mary for sure by rescuing Mary from the darkness of the impure spirits.  But the full restoration of Mary, Mary being saved, did not occur until Mary also received Jesus to fill her life.  And the same is true for each one of us.  Jesus did not come to rescue us that we would be left “unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.”  Jesus came that we would receive him, that his Holy Spirit would take up residence filling the unoccupied space of our spiritual life, keeping things clean and put in order.  We do not want to be of a mind that says, “I am living a better life, a more orderly life, therefore, I good the way I am.”  No.  I know too many people who have behaved that way. The changed the way they are living to a better lifestyle believing that in doing so they were saved.  They were not.  They were simply, “unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.”  Where are they today?  They are not here because other forces came along and filled the emptiness of their lives with worldliness.  Mary Magdalene stands out to us as a brilliant example that we must be swept clean and accept fully the spirit of Jesus Christ to lead our life.

What did Mary do with that new life filled with the spirit of Christ?  We have learned Mary did two things right away.  First, Mary sought to hear the living Word of God so as to mature her life.  Mary traveled with Jesus from the point of her acceptance of him as the Messiah until the very end.  Now we believe that Jesus is not at this moment physically traveling the countryside sharing the word of God so we cannot go on that trip.  But Mary’s life teaches us that we can still travel with Jesus and listen to what Jesus said through the reading and study of the Bible, particularly the Gospels.  Jesus’ words speak to us of comfort, conviction, peace, hope, faith, love, compassion, identity, and destiny.  Everything we need to know to stay focused on the essentials of life with God can be found in and through the God’s Word.  But we must open the book.

Second, Mary entered the broad role of being a minister.  Mary ministered to Jesus’ physical needs for food and shelter.  But Mary also began to become known as the most significant woman among Jesus’ disciples.  How do we know that?  We know Mary was the most significant woman disciple because whenever names are given in the Gospels of Jesus’ women followers, Mary Magdalene’s name is usually listed first.  In ancient and modern writing, the most important character is listed first.  Mary Magdalene’s standing as the foremost woman disciple was not based upon her assignment by Jesus, it was because she held nothing back from Jesus or from those who followed Jesus.  Mary Magdalene was first because she was last, she was a servant to others.  We would do well to imitate Mary’s example by always looking for ways to minister to others.

The movements and activities of Mary Magdalene are not given to us until the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion.  The Gospel writer Matthew recorded for us that at the cross, “55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (Matthew 27:55-56). Mary Magdalene was at the cross of Jesus.  Then after Jesus had died and his body was being placed into the tomb, “61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb (Matthew 27:61).  Mary was a faithful witness to Jesus’ crucifixion, his death, and his burial. For Mary Magdalene and others who had followed Jesus, it was for them the day hope died and was buried in the rock cold tomb.  And yet, Mary Magdalene remained faithful.

Mary Magdalene was not only grateful for her salvation through Jesus, but she was also faithful to the life she had through Jesus.  When it had become dangerous to be associated with Jesus, Mary persisted in being faithful toward Jesus.  Mary stayed when Jesus’ apostles ran.  Mary watched over Jesus even though she could not change Jesus’ circumstances.  Mary witnessed for Jesus so that He would not be alone.  Mary taught us that our presence is worth much, much more than words.  Our presence communicates to the other that he or she is valued, precious, and loved.  Our presence brings not only the gift of ourselves but also in and through our presence we bring the gift of God.  We, therefore, should follow Mary’s example and be Christ to others even if it is uncomfortable or we might be subjected to mocking for being Jesus’ disciple.

Finally, we read in the Gospel of John an extensive story of Mary Magdalene.  John’s gospel often presents a situation from the perspective of one person as representative not of just that person but also other people like that one.  For example, in Chapter 3, we have a discussion between Jesus and one Pharisee, Nicodemus.  Chapter 4, we have the exchange between Jesus and one Samaritan woman.  Chapter 5 we have Jesus and one-man seeking healing at the pools of Siloam.  Chapter 8 involves Jesus and one blind man.  So in Chapter 20, John wrote as though Mary Magdalene going to the tomb alone but as we know from other gospels other women were present.  But John found the interaction between Jesus and Mary Magdalene was best to describe the actions and the theological message.  And so John wrote, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:1-2).

Mary went way back to Jesus’ tomb to care for his body.   There is little doubt Jesus’ apostles knew Mary was going to the tomb but they would not go with her.  The Apostles must have thought, “Why go and see a dead body.  Why go and risk being exposed as one of Jesus’ disciples.  Why go and be reminded that hope had died and had been buried?”  But Mary thought differently.  Mary went in love to Jesus’ tomb.  When Mary got to the tomb, the body of Jesus was not there!  Mary ran to find Peter and John and share the news that Jesus’ body was gone!  At that moment, Mary, thoroughly distraught, did not know she was the first person to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.

For their part, the bewildered apostles Peter and John ran to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty as Mary had said. We are told that the Apostle John saw the empty tomb and the strips of burial linen and believed Jesus’ body not present in the tomb was a God had intervened on Jesus’ behalf as Jesus had said he would.  But John did not understand the absence of Jesus’ body meant God had brought Jesus back to life, a resurrected life.  The apostles left and returned to hiding.  Mary stayed by the tomb.

When alone again, Mary would come face-to-face with her teacher, her Rabboni, her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Hope had not died, nor had hope been buried.  Instead, in a marvelous display of power, God caused hope to spring forth from a tomb in person of Jesus’ Christ.  Mary, now overjoyed at seeing the resurrected Jesus, ran to Jesus’ apostles with these words, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18a).  And with those words the good news was made known to all and with those words, the Biblical story of Mary Magdalene came to an end.  We never hear in the New Testament further mention of Mary Magdalene.

Could there be better words than “I have seen the Lord!” upon which to end Mary’s story?  Mary was once powerless over the forces of evil and darkness. So dire was her condition that seven impure spirits controlled her life.  Then as our hymn from earlier today said, “Then the hand of Jesus touched her, and now she is no longer the same.”  Jesus healed Mary bringing her out of the darkness and into the light.  Mary served and cared for others.  She experienced pain and suffering at Jesus’ death and confusion at the disappearance of Jesus’ body.  But once she met the risen Christ, Mary Magdalene’s final role was to proclaim loudly and clearly the good news, “I have seen the Lord.”  Mary would serve as an inspiring example for us to follow as we each seek to be a faithful believer of our Lord.  Amen and Amen.

10-15 Peace and Hope

We have been exploring the last few weeks the supernatural creation of a Christian and of the living organism called the Christian Church.  Last week, we looked at the model church in Thessalonica that the Apostle Paul said was founded upon Christians who were known for three things: faith, love, and hope.  Today, I would like to finish up this series on the church by drawing from the construct of faith, love, and hope so that we can see how these virtues are foundational not just for the church as an instrument of peace but for each of us to be at peace with God, ourselves, and with others.

If we were to explore the letters of the New Testament, we would find that the virtues of faith, love, and hope were central to Paul’s presentation of the gospel message and his encouragement of Christians and the early Christian Church. These three attributes of the Christian life and the Christian Church either together as three or in groups of two come up again and again in Paul’s writings.  Consider just a few examples.

  • 1 Thessalonians 1:3 - 3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:8 - 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
  • Ephesians 3:17 - 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love.
  • Colossians 1:5 - the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel.
  • 1 Corinthians 13: 13 - And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.

In addition to these references, we saw the foundational nature of these attributes expressed by Paul in his letter to the church in Rome when Paul wrote, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hopeAnd hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5).

          Faith, hope, and love are the key ingredients, if you will, to living out a God-centered, a Gospel centered life individually and then corporately as a church.  Paul was encouraging Christians to see their lives lived through a combination of “faith in God’s grace, love given by God through the presence of the Holy Spirit, and hope in Christ for all things.”

Faith in God’s grace is that deep belief that no matter what God is good.  It is a deep belief that God has seen to our greatest needs, not our most desired wants, our most pressing need.  God did that by removing us from the world, giving us an identity as His children, and guaranteeing us eternal life.  And we have a hope that no matter what we may face we will endure and prevail in our relationship and our destiny with God. Faith, hope, and love are presented to us as indispensable.

          We also heard the words of the Apostle Paul that showed our faith, hope, and love come from the actions taken by God.  Paul wrote, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless (hopeless), Christ died for the ungodly (you and me). Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we (you and I) were still sinners, Christ died for us (to give hope)” (Romans 5:6-8).

Paul saw Jesus as the unmerited demonstration of God’s love sent to us in the hope.  God did not send Jesus as a reward for us getting our act together.  God sent Jesus, to proclaim the good news of freedom from sin for those who would believe in Jesus (faith) and that Jesus died to take our sins even while we were still not yet believers.  Jesus came in and as hope.  But why and how do faith, hope, and love make such a profound change to a believer’s life. It is because faith, hope, and love are the ingredients that produce an understanding that, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Paul’s words are powerful because at first Paul was not at peace with God.  Paul believed in God, but he did not believe in goodness of God expressed through Jesus.  So adamant was Paul in his unbelief that Paul tried to destroy those who did believe in Jesus.  Paul incited people into mobs to kill believers.  Paul helped drag other believers from their homes and sent them to prison simply for believing in the goodness of God expressed through Jesus.  Then Paul’s life was touched by Jesus and Paul realized just how wrong he had been.  A remarkable thing happened to Paul when Paul came to understand God’s love and by faith Paul accepted Jesus.  Paul life of anger and hatred, self-righteousness, and pride gave way to a life of hope and together faith, hope, and love produced peace with God. Paul stopped his warring madness when he came to be at peace with God.

When I was considering this week the virtues of faith, hope, and love, I was reminded of a sign I saw on the desk of one of my coworkers years ago when I worked for the federal government.  The sign said, “Good, Fast, and Cheap.  You can have any two.”  The meaning of this sign was that if you wanted to purchase a product you could have it “Good and fast, but it would not be cheap.  Or you could have it Good and Cheap, but it would not be fast. Or you could have it Fast and Cheap, but it would not be good.”

As I returned my thoughts to the three virtues of faith, hope, and love leading to peace, I saw the wisdom in Paul’s writings that you must have all three faith, hope, and love to have peace with God first, peace with ourselves, and then peace with our neighbors.  Having just two out of the three virtues of faith, hope, and love is just not enough to produce peace.

Peace, or the lack of it, has been very much present on our minds as we have seen the horrors that come from people lacking in faith, hope, and love.  The murderous rage in Gaza with killings and kidnappings demonstrates on a global scale those terrorists are not at peace with God. The parades in New York City in support of those who killed and kidnapped shows the demonstrators are not at peace with God.  We know we don’t need to look at war to see people who are not at peace.  We have people committing acts of domestic violence who are not at peace with God.  Those who foster hatred pitting one group against another are not at peace with God. Why are they not at peace?  They are not at peace because they are lacking in either faith, hope, or love.  All three virtues are required to have peace, first with God, then with us, and finally with others.

For when we are at peace with God, we are then able to live a Gospel centered life that is free to do what God wants us to do.  In that freedom, we can be compassionate toward others and relieve their burdens and encourage them in a future in Jesus.  In that freedom and compassion, we can be forgiving people. Over and over, Jesus, God’s love gift to the world, urged all who would listen that to forgive one another.  To forgive is to be transformed from our natural self to the image of God, the person of Jesus.

Paul described a transformed life as one that had been “justified.”  To be justified means we are made right before God.  A way to think about it is that our record of sin has been exchanged for Jesus’ record of no sin, which makes it right for us to be in God’s presence.  Being right with God bring peace.

Now, what happens, how are we to think about things, if we do not feel at peace with God, ourselves, or with our neighbors?  Why might we not be at peace?  Most often the source of disquiet in our life, a lack of peace, comes from how we deal with suffering.  But we need to be clear about this point.  The lack of peace we experience does not come because we suffer, it comes from the way we respond to suffering.

Suffering is the condition of going through pain, hardship, or distress.  Suffering is part of the human condition.  No one ever lives their entire life without experiencing suffering.  Not even Jesus, God’s own son, escaped suffering, yet Jesus did not lose his peace with God amid the suffering.  And because Jesus did not lose peace with God, Jesus also did not lose peace with himself, and with others.  Jesus was able to live through suffering this way because he had the foundation of faith, love, and hope within him. 

In our New Testament reading from Romans today in which Paul spoke about faith, love, and hope, Paul also spoke about suffering.  Paul said, “We also glory in our sufferings.”  Paul gloried in his sufferings.  Paul accepted his suffering as part of his transformation into the image of Christ.  Although Paul did not wish for suffering upon himself, Paul did work through the suffering that came and gloried in his suffering as a unique moment of faith in God.  How is that possible?

Where suffering comes upon us, we often feel defeated and left to feel that there is no plan for our lives.  Suffering occurs in those spaces formed in our lives.  Suffering happens where something should be but is not.  We suffer over the death of a loved one; what should be is not there.  There is a space in our life in which pain can now reside.  We suffer when our bodies are ill; what should work does not.  We suffer when others choose vengeance towards us, trying to separate us from the comforting routines of life.  Space is created within our lives where distress can reside.

How then are we to have peace amid the suffering?  How was Paul able to glory in his suffering?  I believe it is possible to maintain our peace amid suffering by drawing from the well of faith, hope, and love of the Christian Church.  Suffering, as we know, strips us down and depletes us often physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  We can become exhausted.  It is when we are hurting that we need the uplifting presence of the church, other believers who are at peace with God.  The church is there to remind us that in our suffering, we can boast that God who is faithful, loving, and full of hope did not cause the suffering nor can such suffering chase God from us.  Suffering is a powerful faith moment.  Later in Romans, Paul came back to suffering and wrote, “18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Paul realized that suffering is a force of life that separates the natural person from all he or she holds dear. Yet, not for the Christian who has been transformed by the love of God.  Paul said, “In all these things (sufferings) we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39). Suffering does not and cannot separate us from God and so we boast not for our sufferings but amid our suffering for God is with us.

Paul saw suffering as part of our transformation into the image of Jesus.  He said, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

The church, our brothers and sisters in Christ, through the exercising of their faith, love, and hope towards us in our suffering help us give way to perseverance; that inner strength that keeps us focused on the prize or the goal that lays ahead.  Paul would put it this way, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Our church helps us renew our faith and reliance on God. Our church helps us to keep our eyes focused on Jesus.  That perseverance develops within us a character that is stronger in faith than the weakness our suffering brings to us. 

Sometime ago, I spoke with a mother whose daughter died in a traffic accident.  As some of you know firsthand and others could imagine, it was a devastating loss that produced much pain and suffering.  In the immediate aftermath of that tragic moment, this mother did not feel the presence of God and, in some ways, asked, “Where were you God?”  Suffering can cause us to question everything about our life.  Over the weeks and months that followed, as she received support from those who could share faith, love, and hope, this mother came to see again that God was not the cause of this suffering and that indeed God has been present walking with this person each minute, hour, and day of intense grief. This mother is now patiently working with God to sooth the pain.  This person is certain that their child is safely in the arms of Jesus and that they will be reunited again.  This is how one can glory amid suffering, but it most often requires the strength of the church to help us through our suffering.  It is for this reason that I see those who suffer most are those who are without church.

To live a Gospel centered life is know the love of God, to be transformed by it so that in all circumstances we may live a life of hope.  And even if we suffer in a world hostile to God we will never be separated from God. This gives us the patience, the power, to keep our eye on the prize, forgetting what is behind us and straining forward to the light and glory of Christ.  Therefore, we should live as people of hope and invite others to walk with us in the hope of Jesus our savior, and encourage one another along the way. Amen and Amen.

10-01 God's Covenant

          Last week, we began talking about being Christians and being part of the Christian Church.  We said that a Christian and the Christian Church are supernatural creations, meaning that we become Christians only through the supernatural work of God and that God is the supernatural creator of the Christian Church itself.  In today’s Scripture reading, we learned that the provision for our transformation as a Christian and formation of the Christian Church comes about through the establishment of a covenant by God.

          God is the God of covenants.  Although we read our church covenant this morning, we do not often use the word covenant in our daily life.  However, covenants, in Biblical times, were used often to establish relationships between the powerful and those under their power.  That is what ancient covenants did.  And there were two basic types of covenants. 

Just for a moment, let’s consider each type of covenant.  There was the Suzerain Vassal Covenant in which the superior, say a king, placed demands upon the inferior (vassal).  In return for meeting the king’s demands, there were promises of reward and protection. We understand this sort of covenant because in many ways it has the look of a business relationship in which the needs of each party are being addressed.

The other type of covenant was called the Royal Grant Covenant. In the Royal Grant Covenant, a gift is given from the superior to the lesser as a blessing.  In the case of the Royal Grant Covenant, everything about what is provided in the covenant is dependent upon the one who gave the blessing. And that blessing was given because giver wanted to do so, not because giver needed to do so.  A king, for example, through a Royal Grant Covenant would blessing those he chose to bless because he wanted to bless them.

These ancient human covenants give us insight to relate to covenants established by God.  One of the earliest covenants God made was with a man named Abram.  Genesis 12, verse 1, begins with God reaching out to establish a covenant with Abram.  “1The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  2 I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3).  God’s covenant with Abram has the feel of a Royal Grant Covenant.  The King, God, decided, without need on his part, to bless Abram. Everything that would be accomplished through the covenant would be done by the King, God, for the benefit of the recipient of the covenant, Abram.  The requirement upon Abram was simply that Abram would follow God’s plan to bless him. This is the typical pattern of God’s covenants; I, God, will accomplish My desires and bless you but you must follow the plan.

God would establish other covenants of this nature with the Hebrew people who would make up the nation of Israel.  We also saw in our Old Testament reading today from the Book of Jeremiah that God would make a promise of a new covenant.  There Jeremiah wrote,” 31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.  32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.  33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  l be their God, and they will be my people…For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-33, 34b).  God had spoken of a time coming in which He would establish a new covenant dependent upon Him in which He would draw a group of people to Him to bless them.  We now know that it would not be the calling of a nation, it would be the calling of individuals, one by one, and that those people would be drawn together into church.  We gathered here today are fulfilment of the word of God spoken in Jeremiah.  We are the fulfilment of God’s word because we have accepted Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives within us, and we have been drawn together into the Christian Church.  How do we know we are the fulfilment of God’s word? Let’s look at just a few Scripture references to bring this point home.

Jesus said most simply, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus would fulfil the promise of God in establishing a new covenant.  Jesus then said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).  The Son of God will fulfil the covenant by establishing the church, the collection of people He saved.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).  The cornerstone of the fulfilment of God’s covenantal word is Jesus and the outworking of the Church is the outworking of the covenant.

The Apostle Peter wrote of the church, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).  The King, God, has drawn us, you and me, out of the world of darkness and into the marvelous light of Christ.  This was and is an act of mercy completely dependent upon God.

When we accept the mercy offered by God through Jesus to come into the light, we then come to see that God’s covenant, His decision of love us, to extend grace to us, and to care for us is not based on us being sinless or having accomplished some set of tasks. God extended His grace because we have accepted the completed work of Christ upon the cross for our sake.

Now what I just said that our status is based upon the completed work of Christ, is, in today’s world, an offensive statement.  Did you know that?  What offends people about the cross, and our preaching, and our existence as a church, is the idea that we bring nothing to the party and Christ must do it all. People are offended by that statement. They are offended because we live in a self-help obsessed culture.  We live in self-centered obsessed culture.  We live in a “I’m a good person because of the work I do,” obsessed culture.  And what does God call all these self-motivated efforts?  God calls them filthy rags compared to the grace of the covenant He has offered. This offends people’s pride and that is why the Church is persecuted.  People would rather define their god through their own standards and their own accomplishments than to accept a part in the covenant given by the one true God.

Now we are not immune to the culture around us.  That is why Church, the gathering of saved people, is so important.  Saved people need saved people.  We need to fellowship and care of one another to help us celebrate the joyful moments of life and to get us over the rough ground when things do not go as smoothly as we would prefer.  That is what we said this morning when we opened with the church covenant.

Saved people need saved people because we live in a disposal world.  We design one-time-use products.  We like them. Because when that product has been used or it does not work as we prefer, we throw it away.  The world does that with products and it does that with people.  In the world, when people or relationships with certain people are no longer preferred, our culture throws them away.  May be you don’t believe that is true.  Just consider a few examples:

  • Abortion – The termination of an unwanted pregnancy.  Abortion is ending a pregnancy that is not preferred. When I worked as a Court Appointed Advocate for abused and neglected children, I interviewed the mother of one of the children under my supervision.  The woman was in her late 20’s at the time I interviewed her.  By then she had had 3 children, all abused and neglected, and she had had 8 abortions.  Too often the world considers children, unborn and born, disposable.
  • Homelessness – Not in my backyard.  People do not choose to become homeless.  I have never met any child who when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” answer that question, “I want to be homeless.”  But homelessness happens and when it does society says, “I don’t want to see it.”  Not in my backyard.  One of the greatest risks for those experiencing homelessness is invisibility. By invisibility, I do not mean they become like the scientist in the movie who created a secret formula to make himself invisible to others. By invisibility, I mean there is a sense of being hidden away; it is as though they do not matter or even exist. Invisibility extinguishes hope. Noted author C. S. Lewis wrote, “There is always hope if we keep an unsolved problem fairly in view; there’s none [no hope] if we pretend it’s not there.”
  • The Elderly - On March 27, 2018, George and Shirley Brickenden, of Canada, were euthanized, killed, as they lay side-by-side in their bed at a Toronto-area retirement home.  George and Shirley were both in their 90s. Three of their children sat at the foot of their bed while two doctors simultaneously administered the lethal injections that killed George and Shirley.  The Brickendens had been married for almost 73 years and made a deliberate decision that they wanted to die together, at the same time.  Both George and Shirley were mentally competent and neither had terminal illnesses.  The condition George and Shirley suffered from was that they were in their 90’s and no longer felt as though they mattered.  George and Shirley were just disposable.

This is darkness of the world from which God has removed us.  God knows what the world is like with its sinfulness and darkness.  Because God knows, God established a covenant through Jesus to save us in the present and for all time.  God called us individually and for our preservation while on earth God gave us the Church, a place of light surrounded by darkness.

The Church, the Biblical Church, is called to remain faithful in any and every period of culture. Faithful to God’s word.  The Biblical Church is not concerned with imitating the latest fads of culture.  The Biblical Church is concerned about lining up its practices with the Bible and each member in imitating Jesus.  The Biblical Church is concerned about taking only the Scriptures at the final authority for faith and life.  The Biblical Church is not interested in what the denomination says or even what the pastor says because neither has any authority.  There is only God’s Word, God’s covenant that has authority over the Biblical Church.

Not all churches are Biblical churches.  How can you tell the difference between a Biblical church and a church that is not fully following the plan?  A church that is not following God’s plan is interested in reforms.  They are interested in reforming everything in the church and socially outside the church.  They are interested in changing what is old and making it work again.  That is what it means to reform something.  We take what is not quite working well and we apply our own energies to it and make it functional in some manner.

A Biblical Church believes in restoration.  A Biblical Church believes in the restoration of things back to their original condition, the way they were intended to be.  But a Biblical Church realizes that it cannot restore anything, here meaning people.  The work of restoration can only be accomplished by God.  The role those in the Biblical Church, the role then of this church, is to continually point the unsaved toward Christ.  Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of 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 commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).  That is the mission of the Biblical Church to bring the good news of Christ to them.

Why Christ?  Because the foundation of God’s covenant is Christ.  We heard this point made in our New Testament reading today from the Book of Hebrews, “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from …sins…” (Hebrews 9:15).

As the church, we must bear witness to the mercy we have received by being the light into the darkness of the world always calling others to come.  To do that, we must come together to be refreshed and renewed in our faith.  To do the mission of the church, we must embrace those who come into the Church even if that is messy at times.  We cannot be the church by ourselves.  That was never part of God’s plan.

I am glad you are here today. Because in a few moments, as a Biblical Church, we will partake of the bread and the cup.  It was in the cup particularly that Jesus said to his disciples, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25b).  We are part of that new covenant.  Come, let us be united as the Church God intended us to be. Amen and Amen.