The Bethany Road

John 12:1-19

Description – The fifth sermon of a 2006 Lenten Series

Dramatic Introduction: ‘The Bethany Road’ written by Arden and Peter Mead and published by Creative Communications for the Parish, © 2004

(1) Sermon titles are a challenge for a pastor. There is an art to selecting a suitable title but it can be quite difficult to do so. Some pastors have simply done away with sermon titles and in their bulletins they simply say, ‘Sermon.’

Others, like Rick Warren, believe that a good sermon title is very important and necessary to catch the audience’s attention. In some ways, I am glad that this particular sermon already has a title, namely “The Bethany Road.” (Now while I am using the suggested title, what you are about to hear are (hopefully) Holy Spirit-inspired thoughts.)

(2) However, several titles did run through my mind for this particular passage…

(2A) One is ‘A Sweet Sacrifice’ which would have us highlight what our dramatic dialogue and main text has already noted, Mary’s sacrifice of costly perfume used for burial to wash Jesus’ feet. We could compare and contrast Mary’s actions with those of the women who came to the tomb with burial spices to bury Jesus adequately since He had not been due to the pressure to bury Him before sundown at the start of the Sabbath.

(2B) A second title is ‘Back from the Dead.’ Here we would focus on Jesus’ miraculous act of raising Lazarus from the dead that was recorded in chapter 11 plus what happened after as recorded in this chapter.

(2C) A third title is ‘The Agony of Defeat.’ This title would allow us to look at the response of the Pharisees in verse 19 to what had happened after Lazarus’ resurrection as well as their reactions to Lazarus’ experience in chapter 11. We could then look at these passages against the prophetic statements of Isaiah and others in the Old Testament and ponder how jealousy and envy worked in the minds of those who plotted Christ’s death.

(3) Today we walk ‘The Bethany Road.’ Moreover, as we have in the last few weeks, we begin today by asking the question, ‘What kind of a road is this road?’

(4) In the sermon aids for this week I read, “The Bethany Road begins with a trip to the cemetery, and ends with a parade.” Here then are a couple of clues as to the kind of road this road is.

(5) It is a road of mourning. Now the mourning starts in chapter 11 with Lazarus’ death and burial and Jesus is nowhere to be seen. In fact, we read in verses 5 through 7 of chapter 11, “Although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days and did not go to them. Finally, after two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”

The trip to Bethany would be a risk for Jesus because as we read in verse 8 there had already been one attempt on His life and the disciples were concerned that there would be another as evidence by Thomas’ comment, ‘Let’s go too, and die with Jesus.’ (How would you describe Thomas’ tone of voice? When I read it again this week, I thought, “Did he say it sarcastically?” “Was it with a strong hint of resignation in it?” or “Did he say it with resoluteness ready to die with Jesus?”) Therefore, four days pass before Jesus goes to Bethany knowing Lazarus has already died and two grieving sisters ready to confront him.

We are familiar with the grief of funerals. From personal experience, there are moments during funeral preparation and funeral services that I also deal with grief and mourning and that I weep too, often in private.

When one of my uncles died a few years ago, I did pretty well during the service and even during the preparation for it as I talked with my aunt and cousins. But, after I finished my remarks, concluded the service, and walked away from the funeral room before the final respects were paid, I mourned the passing of my uncle as well.

We have walked with one another as a friend or loved one has passed through the valley of death. And we also know that mourning and grief continues after the initial shock has passed. But, as we read so often during the Lenten season, we know that Jesus “was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief.” Jesus had seen death and people near death.

In Matthew 9, we read of the death of a little girl whose hand Jesus takes and, in spite of the mockery He encounters when He says, “ the girl isn’t dead; she’s only asleep” brings her back to life! Then over in Luke 7 we read of the widow’s son who is raised to life again by Jesus’ command to “Get up!”

But these two individuals had not been dead four days in addition to being in a tomb. They had been dead for only a brief period.

With Lazarus however, it was entirely different. He had been dead for four days, wrapped in grave linens, and then placed in a tomb that had been covered by a large stone. He was good and dead. The possibility that he still had life left in him was zero. His body had begun to decompose.

As we read the rest of chapter 11, we notice that Jesus is moved to tears and is deeply troubled. Why?

The primary reason is the lack of faith in Him. No one entertains the possibility that He can raise Lazarus from the dead. We hear this spoken by some as recorded in John 11:37, “This man healed a blind man. Why couldn’t he keep Lazarus from dying?”

Jesus is troubled. Jesus is angry. He knows what He is going to do. But the others, perhaps understandably blinded by grief, think that any hope of a resurrection is… well a miracle. Yet Jesus tells the twelve in 11:14 and 15, “Lazarus is dead. And for your sake, I am glad I wasn’t there, because this will give you another opportunity to believe in me. Come, let’s go see him.”

Then, when He arrives in Bethany, He says to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes,” Martha said, “when everyone else rises, on resurrection day.”  Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish. Do you believe this, Martha?”

Then, much to everyone’s overwhelming surprise, Jesus orders the stone rolled away and orders Lazarus to come out of the grave!

The reverberations of this miracle are almost immediate. The Pharisees, Jesus’ main opponents, are made immediately aware of what has happened and a plot is hatched. John 11:53 and 54 says, “So from that time on the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples.”

We don’t know how much time passes between the end of chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12. It could have been a couple of weeks, or less than a week. But, we do know that Jesus returns from Ephraim to Bethany in preparation for His death and goes to someone’s home for a meal prepared in His honor. (The gospels give conflicting accounts for the identity of the home.)

I wonder how much time it took for news of Jesus’ arrival to get around to both His supporters and His enemies, who as we read in the last verse of chapter 11, had asked for knowledge of his whereabouts so that He could be arrested. And Jesus was much honored and in the news because of Lazarus’ resurrection.

And from what follows in our main text, we see that the tension and pressure is starting to build in Judas, impatient to be sure, and close to betrayal as he snaps at Mary. ‘How could you do such a thing?’ ‘That is a terrible waste of money!’

But, Jesus knows what is coming… (John 12:7 and 8) “Leave her alone. She did it in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but I will not be here with you much longer.” The Bethany Road now becomes (5A) a road of celebration and it begins not with the Triumphal Entry but here at dinner with a man who was raised back to life sitting beside him and his sister whose faith in Christ was expressed in a costly and prophetic way. (Ever stop to think that the ointment that Mary poured on Jesus’ feet might have been for her brother?)

It is this act of resurrecting Lazarus that calls attention to Jesus and crates His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Here is a man, (a man to his enemies and one that was considered demon possessed) that has raised someone from the dead! He has got to be the Messiah! (He was and is!) He has got to be the Anointed One! (He was and is!)

The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A huge crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said: “Don’t be afraid, people of Israel. Look, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.”

His disciples didn’t realize at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered that these Scriptures had come true before their eyes. Those in the crowd who had seen Jesus call Lazarus back to life were telling others all about it. That was the main reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this mighty miracle.

What a great celebration! Here is our true King! We are going to be free!

Not so fast…

The plot thickens… those in power say, “We have got to get rid of Him! We do it NOW!” Then there are the people who, John says, “despite all the miraculous signs he had done, … did not believe in him.”

This road now becomes a (6A) road of plotting and fickleness. The leaders plot His death and the people are fickle in their faith. Some believe and some don’t. Some are short-term believers and others give lip service to honoring Jesus.

What does all this mean? How does this affect us right now? So what, Jim?

(7A) Jesus weeps with us during difficult moments in our lives. While He was troubled with and angry at the lack of faith in those who were with Him at Lazarus’ tomb, He also wept with Mary. The God, who was to hang on the cross for our spiritual pain and sin, is a God who cares for us. He is with us in our sorrows as well as our joys. Believe it and remember it during those difficult moments.

(7B) Faith is costly. Mary’s actions cost her something of value. But she thought that it was worth it. Her faith was demonstrated in her using an expensive ointment to do a mundane task – washing the feet of a visitor to her home.

What has your faith cost you lately? What have you recently sacrificed for your faith? What is the Lord calling you to give up for Him?

The road for Jesus now becomes harder and more difficult and this week we need to remember, we must remember, what took place this week. Why? Because this week and what took place on this week still affects human history whether or not people still choose to believe it or not.

On Thursday at 7 PM we will continue to walk this Lenten road with a walk on the Road to Gethsemane and next Sunday we will conclude our walk with a walk on the Emmaus Road.

Let us continue our walk toward Jerusalem… Amen.

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The Tale of Two Rooms

Scripture Passage: John 20:19-23

Description- A 2006 post-Easter sermon

(1) When failure strikes, where do you go to regroup? I asked that question to several persons this week and here is what some of them said:

(1A) One of them offered several different groups of people but ultimately said, “I drop to my knees, and pour my pain before the throne of God, and ask for His protection, strength, and Power!  For God NEVER uses what I tell him against me, and He’s always there with the answer I need!”

(1B) Another one said, “You regroup by expecting the unexpected.”

Where do you go to regroup when failure strikes?

Now before I continue, here is what I have felt led to preach on from now until the first Sunday in June when it is Pentecost Sunday. For this week and next, I will be preaching on selected passages from the gospels’ final chapters as well as the opening chapter of Acts to help us understand the importance and significance of what happened after the Resurrection and prior to Pentecost.

In May, I will preach for two weeks on family life. My Mother’s Day sermon will be entitled, “Lessons I Have Learned from My Mother.” The week after that I will be preaching a sermon that I have definitely felt led to preach entitled, “Parents, Stop Beating Yourselves Up!” (What’s that about? You will just have to come and find out!)

Then, for Memorial Day Sunday we will begin what I am calling a ‘Week of Remembering.’ I will tell you more about that week as it draws closer. However, it will be a week during which you will be encouraged to remember not only fallen heroes but two additional groups of people. Those who currently serve our nation and those who have been a faith influence on you as we think about Pentecost Sunday. Invite a veteran or a member of one of our law enforcement units and/or fire departments or someone that has served as an example to you of faith and service to come with you that Memorial Day Sunday.

We will conclude that week on June 4th with communion and a solo by Lindsey Helmer who has graciously agreed to come and sing a wonderful song of remembrance entitled ‘I Remember You.’ (She would have done so on Memorial Day Sunday, but she will be returning from the West Coast that day.) Again, I encourage you to invite someone to come that Sunday.

(2) So, where do you go to regroup when failure strikes?

(2A) Others said.. When I feel lost or defeated I turn to prayer

(2B) I don’t have a ‘place’ or a ‘person’ that I go to….  I guess I go to a place inside myself. Never really thought about it.

(3) ‘If you are talking about the people I go to talk to, that would be my support group. Family and friends! If you are talking about a specific place it would be…the family farm… That is my favorite place ever to go relax and just feel like I’m miles away from everything.

(4) Another one said, “I go home to regroup; sometimes to Chain O’Lakes State Park or Pokagon…I visit family or colleagues.  I try to be around people who will give me some support;”

(5) Finally another person said, “Personally, I don’t believe in failing.  I think every opportunity is a learning experience and always take something positive from each experience.  I like the book of Philippians, especially chapter 4.”

Now in addition to our main text for this morning, there is another text that I want to read, also from John’s gospel. It immediately follows our text with John 20:24 and concludes with verse 29: “One of the disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed. Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who haven’t seen me and believe anyway.”

Do you notice a common theme in these two passages? Let’s look again at verse 19 “That evening, on the first day of the week, the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders,” Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! And also verse 26, “Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them.”

What do you notice? I notice two things. (6A) First, I noticed that when failure struck, the disciples ran to a safe spot to regroup.

Now, we do not know where they were but we know two things. First, that on the very day that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, 9 of the remaining disciples (Thomas was not present and Judas was dead) were behind locked doors, in a location they assumed was a safe one, and they were there because second, they were afraid of the Jewish leaders… and what they might do to them.

Now Matthew’s post-resurrection account, found in Matthew 28:11-15, gives some plausibility to this argument. “As the women were on their way into the city, some of the men who had been guarding the tomb went to the leading priests and told them what had happened. A meeting of all the religious leaders was called, and they decided to bribe the soldiers.

They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you and everything will be all right.” So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say.”

Most likely then the remaining disciples were marked men because they had been with Jesus and were considered dangerous because of their knowledge and experience and because they were accused (wrongly from Matthew’s account) of stealing Jesus’ body. They were probably strong candidates for arrest and trial, maybe even death.

I have heard that when there have been various political coups around the world, those closest to the deposed leaders, especially family and advisers, are often the first to be arrested or worse. So for the authorities, political and religious, to insure that Jesus is forgotten, the disciples are probable targets of arrest.

But not only were they fearful for their lives because of their connection to Jesus they were also disheartened and discouraged because Jesus was dead even though they had heard reports that He was alive. Their dream of Jesus truly liberating them was dead and they were grieving not just His death but the death of their hopes and dreams they had for Him.

Can you relate to the disciples? I can. I have had moments, and you have had them too, when a dream has died a sudden death.

We have had relational dreams shattered by rejection and divorce. We have had occupational dreams shattered by layoffs and sudden terminations. We have had very personal dreams shattered by episodes and choices that have cut deep.

And so here, the very evening of the Resurrection, are a group of deeply wounded men, and probably women too, coming to grips with the pain that reality often gives out. But… but… (and this is the second thing that I notice) Jesus shows up! ALIVE! (6B) Now, it gets interesting!

We read, “Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he held out his hands for them to see, and he showed them his side. They were filled with joy when they saw their Lord!

I want us to notice a couple of words in this last sentence. They were filled with joy when they saw their Lord!” Gloom and doom changes to utter joy! YESSSS!

Their Lord, their God, their Jesus is alive! AMEN!

That’s what they had heard and now they were personally experiencing the resurrected Lord right before their eyes! AMEN!

Have you had moments when you went from discouraged to encouraged in the blink of an eye? We all have had such moments and some of those moments (perhaps many of them) were God moments because the Lord showed up!

There is something else here as well that is important for us to notice as we read in verse 22. “Then he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.””

I don’t know how many times I have read this passage until, probably 20 or so years ago, that verse caught my attention. Here is Jesus ‘breathing’ on them and giving them the Holy Spirit ahead of Pentecost Day when the Spirit would make His power and presence known in a wider and dramatic way.

(7) So, in addition to this room being a room where failure is replaced by faith in a Risen Savior it is also a room where  (8) gloom and doom is overcome by joy at seeing the Risen Savior, and a room (9) where powerlessness gives way to empowerment as the Risen Savior gives them the Holy Spirit.

Now let’s look at Room number two. (10)

As with room number one, room number two is inhabited by at least one person, in this case Thomas, who has yet to believe his colleagues. His words, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side,” have been echoed down through the centuries by many. ‘I won’t believe it until I see it.’ His disbelief has coined the phrase, ‘Doubting Thomas,’ used to describe those who ‘won’t believe it until I see it.’

My sense of this passage is that the atmosphere in this room (it could have been the same room where Jesus appeared eight days earlier) is different that it was eight days ago. The doors are still locked as verse 28 indicates but there is an absence of fear noted in the narrative. For Thomas, however, there is doubt. But, as before, Jesus reveals Himself in their midst and challenges Thomas to believe.

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”.

Jesus goes on to make a point about the importance of faith. “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who haven’t seen me and believe anyway.”

Thomas and the others would not see Jesus face to face for much longer. During this time they would be given the commission ‘to go and make disciples’ and ‘to be witnesses’ throughout the world.

Their faith would have to be rooted in more than the retelling of their experiences with Jesus. They would need the power of the Holy Spirit to help them tell the Jesus story because the story is a story of transformation, a transformation of the human heart and soul. (10A) So this room is a room in which doubt leaves and faith comes in.

As I pondered these two texts this past week I thought about the rooms that we inhabit during our lives. When you live in a house long enough, the rooms have a story to tell. (11) The kitchen… is a place where we remember conversations with kids and parents and others who come in and out of our lives.

The living room is where we entertain guests and family and friends. Where first birthdays and graduation parties are celebrated.

Then, during this past Lenten season, we have seen video clips of the various shrines and holy places in Israel that indicate the movements of Christ during His earthly ministry as well as His death and Resurrection.

But why is all of this important to us today? What difference should it make to us that men were locked in a room and Jesus showed up? Here’s why.

(12) Jesus needed to appear to the remaining disciples because it validated a core belief of our faith – His Resurrection!

In his book, Ancient-Future Time, Robert E Webber writes about the season of Easter not just Easter day. He argues that Christ’s Resurrection is not just a fact to be defended but an experience of major importance and he quotes Paul in Colossians 3:1 and 3,  ‘You have been raised with Christ…Your life is now hidden with Christ in God.’ He goes onto make this important claim, ‘The fact of the resurrection is that God won a victory over the powers of evil-those powers that seek to destroy God’s creation.’

Paul makes the point even sharper detail in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says, But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? (13) For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ was not raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your trust in God is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God, for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave, but that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. (14) And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ have perished! And if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world. (15) But the fact is that Christ has been raised from the dead. He has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again.

(16) Why is all of this important? The Resurrection matters! For if we do not believe that it happened, then the forgiveness of sin that we seek, the freedom from guilt and shame that we desperately need to experience, has not taken place and there is no hope.

Do you have an Easter faith? Have you had a resurrection experience? Has the Lord brought you back to life as you have confessed your sins to God and allowed Him to break the power of sin and failure in your life?

Millions of people over the centuries have had that experience of faith all because they have heard it from someone else, who heard it from someone else, who heard it from someone else, and on and on back to a room of heartbroken men who experienced the miracle and power of a resurrected Savior who believe that He was the Son of God and the Savior of the World. What about you? Do you believe this? Amen.

Sources: Robert E Webber, Ancient-Future Time, page 144. Baker Books, 2004

An Unfinished Agenda

Scripture Passage – Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8

Description – A second 2006 Post-Resurrection sermon

(1) In the circles that I travel in, especially my ministerial circles, there are several common phrases or words that I have heard a great deal in the past several years. One is (1A) ‘casting a vision.’

We read in the Old Testament, “Without a vision the people parish.” Vision is important. We need to have a clear direction for our church, our lives, and our families.

Another phrase that I have heard a great deal is (1B) ‘purpose.’ Rick Warren has written two best selling books with ‘purpose’ in their title, “The Purpose Driven Church’ and ‘The Purpose Driven Life.’ Both are excellent books.

In another day and age, I think the equivalent phrase was ‘The Lord’s Will.’ ‘It is the Lord’s will that…’ “I believe that the Lord’s will for me is to…” Today we substitute the phrase with the word, ‘purpose.’ ‘God’s purpose for me is…’ ‘I am sensing God’s purpose is beginning to change…’

A third word is one that I like. It is a big one these days, closely aligned with ‘casting a vision.’ It is ‘passion.’ (1C)

I hear the question quite frequently, ‘What is your ministry passion? What are you passionate about for the Lord?’

However, it is also a bit overwhelming because there are days when you feel no passion what so ever. Passion is about strengths, about what you are good at.

There is another word, one that is in my title, closely related to vision and purpose, and even passion. It is the word, (1D) ‘agenda.’

Now agenda can have a negative connotation to it. It implies intent to get your way on something. This is especially true in an election year as we hear more and more from candidates and their political agendas. All of these words imply, however, an effort to achieve a goal much like trying to aim a dart at the bull’s eye.

I have heard these phrases and words said by speakers at pastors’ meetings, in articles about church growth, in e-mail columns that I receive, and some of the magazines that I read about the church and other organizations. The challenge as I see it these days is that words and phrases, like these, get over used and degenerate into fads. This makes it a challenge when it comes to helping people come to faith in Christ. It almost seems like sales pitches these days.

(2)As followers of Jesus Christ, as the Church, (2A) we have an unfinished agenda, (2B) we have a purpose, (2C) we have a passion, (2D) we have a vision before us (2E) but it is not ours it is the Lord’s! (2F)

And it is found in our main texts for this morning. It is found in the Great Commission ‘to go and make disciples’ and in the Pentecost empowerment to be ‘witnesses for Christ.’

In the opening chapter of Acts and verse 3 we read, ‘During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time and proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. On these occasions he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.”

I wonder what they specifically talk about. I wonder what Jesus did to prove that He was actually alive. We get some hints from the previous scriptures that we looked at last Sunday. But I also wonder where He was and what He was doing when He wasn’t with the disciples. Why did He only appear ‘from time to time?’ Why didn’t He have constant communication with them as He did before His death and resurrection? Did they have quite a few ‘ah ha!’ experiences as Jesus’ teachings became clearer to them with the resurrection behind them?

What were they hoping for? What questions did they ask Jesus? If you had been one of the disciples, what would you have been thinking and feeling? What would have been one of your wishes?

We have some glimpses into their thoughts and feelings, especially in Acts 1:6 where they repeatedly ask Jesus, “Lord, are you going to free Israel now and restore our kingdom?” Jesus makes clear that all of that is in God’s hands and not to worry about it. (3)Then He goes on to share (3) God’s agenda, an unfolding and unfinished agenda.

This agenda is unfolding because God is still at work in our world today. He is at work in our community in ways large and small. He is at work in our nation, though we are sorely tempted to think that he no longer has any influence. He is at work in the world seeking people to come to Him through His Son Jesus Christ.

This unfolding agenda is revealed in our main texts for a couple of reasons. (4) First, God’s agenda was not about one group of people at a specific place and time. It is about  all of humanity throughout history.

In Luke 23: 44-46 we read, By this time it was noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the thick veil hanging in the Temple was torn apart. Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last.’

This thick veil separated The Most Holy Place where only the High Priest, the top priest could enter. The other priests could only enter the Holy Place while the people could not enter either place and had to remain in the courts.

Furthermore, the High Priest could only enter the Most Holy Place once a year to make a sin offering on behalf of all the people. Not so today is it? I don’t have to go out and kill a lamb and sprinkle its blood on our altars or communion table. And I don’t have to do it all by myself with no one else around. Aren’t you glad? I am!

Christ’s death and resurrection made all of that moot, no longer important. The tearing of the veil meant that the old covenant no longer applied and that anyone and everyone could come to Christ.

Now it caused some problems in the early years of the church. There were those who, steeped in the traditions and practices with which they were raised, said people needed to go through those same practices and traditions if they were going to follow Jesus. Others said no it is not about rituals and rules. It is about grace and mercy, Christ’s grace and mercy.  It got kinda of ugly sometimes.

Therefore, part of what we read in Acts and in Paul’s writing is an attempt to answer the question, “What really constitutes being a Christian? Is it keeping the old ways and infusing them with new meaning? Or is it radically different?”

But, God’s agenda did not change. It was still an agenda of transformation and it clearly involved the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul made that clear in such places as I Corinthians 1:2, “We are writing to the church of God in Corinth, you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did all Christians everywhere—whoever calls upon the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and theirs.” So, (5) in Matthew 28 Jesus gives the disciples (and in turn, us) a major agenda – “bring people to faith in Me and help them grow in that faith.”

These agenda items involve two important tasks: evangelism and discipleship. Now, evangelism is another one of those emotionally laden terms that scare some people and alienate others.

Evangelism is simply telling the story of Jesus. It is not brow beating people. It is not shoving a Bible in someone’s face, yelling, and screaming at him or her. That may be the way it once was, but that does not work anymore.

Some here may have heard about the Christian website, off the map.org going on EBay, the auction website and winning a bid for an atheist’s services. Has anybody heard about that?

What happened was that an atheist named Hemant Mehta placed his services as an atheist on EBay to the highest bidder and “Off the Map” won the bid. It was $504, which was their entire 2006 ad budget according to a posting on their website.

Hemant’s assignment was to visit various churches, assess their message, and approach to evangelism. He has had some interesting things to say about the church and Christianity. Some of it may make us angry to read it but he has made some valid points. I share this story because I want to emphasize the fact that in giving us the assignment to go and make disciples of all nations, we need to be aware of the cynicism these days about the church and Christianity.

(6) Evangelism is about demonstrating as well as telling the Christian faith in the best ways possible with the best motive possible, love.

Now, the other half of the Great Commission involves discipleship. What’s that?

Again, it is another one of those church words that we need to define. Discipleship is the process of growing in our faith and it involves, vision, passion, and purpose.

‘The Purpose Driven Life’ is a book that I believe has made the Biblical mandate for discipleship very clear and practical and I like the use of the word SHAPE in describing how we are equipped for a ministry in the church and the mission in the world. (7)

SHAPE stands for Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experience

In a nutshell, the point of the word is that all of us have been uniquely created by God to serve Him in a variety of important places and situations inside and outside of the church. Discipleship is more than learning more ‘stuff.’ It is about putting into practice each and every day what we have learned from Bible Study and worship on Sunday and at other times.

So, the first part of God’s agenda is that all of humanity is to be reached with a specific message, the message of salvation through Christ. (8)The second part of God’s agenda is that means of telling this message is…us! (8A)You and me!

I cannot remember who said this, it could have been Bill Hybels or Rick Warren, but someone said something to the effect that ‘God has trusted the fulfillment of the Great Commission to imperfect human beings. Those imperfect human beings include you … and me. But it is ‘us’ (all of us!) who profess faith and trust in Christ that is a part of this agenda.

It is not a clergy only club. It involves all of us. ‘But how, Jim? I can’t give 40 hours a week to the church. I have a family to think of and other responsibilities.’

It is not the amount of time but something else as we are told in Acts 1:8 … being empowered witnesses. (9) “But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere.”

When we confess our sins and accept the forgiveness of God, we are automatically a part of the church. That is what we teach in the Church of God. (One of our slogans, if you will, of many years ago was, ‘Where a Christian experience makes you a member.’) But, that experience comes with some obligations, Biblical obligations, namely, become a witness, a Spirit empowered witness.

A witness testifies to what he or she saw or experienced. That is what a witness does.

So, let me give you a three open-end statements based on a book that some of us have, ‘Steps Toward Spiritual Maturity’ by David Durey.

  1. (10) Before I confessed my sins and accepted God’s forgiveness I lived and thought this way.
  2. (11) How I came to the point of being born again was as follows…
  3. (12) After experience God’s forgiveness through Christ, the following changes have, and are, taking place in my life…

What is your answer to these statements? How you answer them is critical because for the Christian faith to be well shared requires credibility as evidenced by a clear change in our actions, attitudes, and speech.

‘Jim, you are asking for the impossible. I’m not perfect like you are.’

Who said that? I am not perfect either! But am I available? Am I willing to serve as God leads? Yes I am! How about you?

(13) What then does all of this mean? What’s not just my point, but what is the point of our texts and this segment of the Bible?

(14) Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection had a point to it, and it still does today. (14A) First and foremost, it is that humanity needs to be spiritually changed.

Second, while this change is possible only by the work of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, (14B) God uses people as His witnesses because it was for people that He died and rose again!

Third, (14C) this agenda is an unfinished agenda because the Lord has yet to return. We don’t know when and we don’t know how because of what Jesus said in Acts 1:7, “The Father sets those dates and they are not for you to know.

So while we work and wait for His return, we have a clear agenda before us- ‘to go and make disciples’ by being His witnesses everywhere we go and everywhere He sends us.

Jesus did not die on the cross for humankind so that we could gather and have a nice time. Jesus Christ died so that (15) we can be changed for the better because we need to be changed.

I conclude with a challenge. In a recent conversation with several colleagues, one suggested that perhaps some laypersons are designated ‘Bridge Builders’ and a released from ministry within the church walls and tasked for ministry outside the church walls.

As she shared that thought, Jesus’ use of the word, ‘Go,’ in the Great Commission immediately came to mind. Then I reflected on the broad scope of the witness in Acts 1:8, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and beyond that made me realize Jesus expected the faith to spread outside of Jerusalem into the surrounding areas and beyond.

(16) So, we need some ‘Bridge Builders.’ We need some people who are willing to start a small group or some kind of ministry in the community to reach people, bring them to faith, and help them find their place of ministry in and through the church. What about you? Could God be asking you to be a bridge builder? If He would ask you, what would you answer Him?

Sources: Rick Warren, ‘The Purpose Driven Life.’ David Durey, ‘Steps Toward Spiritual Maturity.’

Staying True

Scripture Passage – Galatians 6:9

Description – Communion meditation for May 7, 2006

One of things that I thought about doing in my 20’s was running a marathon race. There was something appealing and challenging about running 26 plus miles. (It’s not appealing now but I did think about it.)

I remember that as I ran during my college days, my endurance got better as I ran more and ran further. By my senior year, a run of 7 miles a day was commonplace.

I had begun as a sprinter and began to move toward middle distance in college until my schedule grew such that I did not have time for track and field. But I did learn there was a difference between being a sprinter and a distance runner.

(1) Just by looking at a sprinter and a (2) distance runner you see a major difference. One is lean and thin (not always) and the other is powerful and muscular.

Running a distance race and running a sprint is two different things. It requires a different approach to training.

I recently asked a friend of mine, who has done a great deal of running in her lifetime and is looking to move into coaching, the question, As a runner and perhaps future coach what kinds of differences are there in coaching and training the two types?”

This is what she wrote, Sprinting is all about power and quickness.  All the drills and running and lifting you do is geared towards increasing your power and improving your quickness.  With Distance running it’s about endurance and quickness.  You should be able to run one to six miles at a time, but you have to be quicker than the other people in the race if you want to win.”

‘As far as coaching the two, sprinting requires more technique where distance is about tempo.  You can be a distance runner and have not so great form (example: not picking your knees up or driving your arms), but if you’re running the 100 meter dash your form has to be really good (example: high knees, strong arm drive).’

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul wrote, ‘Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win. All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.’

This time of year is a time when it is easy to think about finishing well. Graduation, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, and the traditional start of the wedding season, cause me to think about how well we live life.

(3) Communion is also a time to reflect on how well we are living and it leads me to ask some questions, ‘How are you staying true to God these days?’ (4) ‘How willing are you to finish well?’ (5) ‘How willing and able are you to run the race of faith?’

In John’s gospel account, especially in chapters 14 – 17, I think that Jesus was getting the disciples ready to run a marathon not a sprint as He encouraged them and challenged them to love and to be ready for opposition to their ministry and message that would be done in Jesus’ name. But more important is that Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit to give them the power to do the work that they would be doing, in other words, to run and finish well, the race of faith.

John notes this in chapter 14 and verses 16 and 17, ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world at large cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you do, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.’

We have spent the past month walking through the Easter story and again celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ and what that truly means for us. But, what about after Easter? What do we do, ‘in the mean time,’ between Christ’s return to the Father and His second coming? How do we keep going through life, which has its moments of discouragement as well as moments of joy?

In Galatians 6:9 we are given one important answer to this question, ‘So don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time.’

What do we do ‘in the mean time?’ What do we do as we wait for the Lord’s return? We do the following:

(6) We make disciples… by helping our families and our friends come to faith and a growing relationship with Christ

(7) We go as witnesses… to friends and those who God leads us to tell what God has done for us

(8) We keep doing what is right and we don’t give up… we stay faithful and we finish the race!

I say to you this morning, ‘Don’t give up! Don’t give up your faith! Don’t give up loving your family, friends, and yourself! Don’t give up on the Lord!”

God has not given up on us! God has sent us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and empower us and to inspire us to run the race that is before us. We have a mission, a goal, a passion, a purpose, an agenda from God to make a difference in this world because God calls us to follow Him and help others come to Him and grow in that relationship and faith.

Finish well! Run the race! Your faith and commitment does matter! Don’t give up!

The Lord has given us the Holy Spirit, the church, the Bible, and life itself to live as He has created us to live. Give thanks to God for that! Praise Him for His faithfulness.

As we take communion together, let us do so with a renewed commitment to the Lord who has given us life everlasting. Amen.

Parents! Stop Beating Yourself Up!

Scripture Passage – Ezekiel 18:19-20

Description – A pastoral sermon to encourage discouraged parents

(1) Reading, studying, and applying the Bible is considered to be one of the most important ‘habits’ that Christians are encouraged to developed. It ranks right up there (and perhaps equally) with prayer, church attendance, and personal ministry as the core set of habits necessary for a growing faith.

Reading and applying the Bible is, at times, hard work. The Bible is a book but it is also the inspired and inerrant Word of God. It was written in another time and place in two ancient languages. But God has given it to us to discern correctly His will and purpose for humankind.

The Bible is a book that reveals supernatural power. Men wrote it but God inspired it for God’s purposes.

The Bible contains history, poetry, and wisdom that can draw us in and make us think and struggle with our conscience and our souls. While it describes portions of verifiable human history, it transcends that history and enfolds it into divine history and the divine story.

The full range of human emotions is a part of scripture. There is love, hate, joy, sorrow, anger, peace, and a host of other emotions with which we can identify.

Yet there are times when we forget about this great and wonderful plan of God when we read certain portions of the Old Testament. I am referring to sections such as the ‘begat’ sections where we read about who ‘begat’ who followed by more ‘begetting.’ I do sometimes wonder why the Lord did not do more divine editing to shorten those sections, but one day we all might know why.

Then there is the latter half of Exodus, specifically chapters 25 though 39, in which the construction of the Tabernacle is given and carried out in detail. Again, after reading several chapters that give the measurements and type of materials used in the construction of it, my eyes have tended to glaze over and I revert to a childhood desire – show me a picture! (2) (I could not find a legally usable drawing of the tabernacle but here is a drawing of what the Ark of the Covenant that went in the Tabernacle may have looked like.)

However, there are moments when as you read the Spirit is at work and a verse or two, or even an entire chapter, grabs a hold of you and you sit up and take notice! You begin to ask, ‘What are you saying God? What were you saying then? What are you saying now? What are you saying to me now?’ That’s what happened to me when I read our main text for this morning last November 8 when this text was part of my yearly Bible reading.

As I read it I thought, (3) ‘Why haven’t I noticed this before?’ ‘What is God saying to the Israelites?’ ‘Why is God saying it to the Israelites now?’ ‘What does it truly mean for us today?’

The first question is beyond the scope of this sermon but a short answer to it is, “It was the Holy Spirit showing me something important!” As for the remaining questions, they are worth pursuing.

(4) ‘What is God saying to the Israelites?’

God is saying something very important: Each person is responsible for his or her own actions and life.

Ezekiel is using a contrast and comparison method as we read in verses 1 through 4: Then another message came to me from the Lord: “Why do you quote this proverb in the land of Israel: ‘the parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste’? As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you will not say this proverb anymore in Israel. For all people are mine to judge—both parents and children alike. And this is my rule: The person who sins will be the one who dies.

The contrast and comparison in this passage is concerned with a commonly used phrase that appears in verse 2, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste.’ In verse 1, we realize that this is a widely held belief and a view by the Israelites regarding the effects of parental choices on children.

In reading verses 3 and 4, however, we get the contrasting view of God. ‘As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you will not say this proverb anymore in Israel. For all people are mine to judge—both parents and children alike. And this is my rule: The person who sins will be the one who dies.’

So, compared to the commonly held belief that the actions of the parents will have an impact on the children, God says, ‘Not any more.’ When you read commentary on this passage you are reminded that this very deeply held belief was rooted in The Ten Commandments where we read in Exodus 20:5 ‘I do not leave unpunished the sins of those who hate me, but I punish the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generations.’

Now I want to read slowly this passage again and as I do so, I want us to think about the implications of this passage. ‘I do not leave unpunished the sins of those who hate me, but I punish the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generations.’

What are the implications of this view? What are the implications of this so-called proverb? One word comes to mind: (5) fatalism. Fatalism is best expressed as an attitude that, ‘nothing that I do is going to change my life’s situation… everything is already pre-determined… nothing good can happen…change is impossible.’

Fatalism leads to something else – irresponsibility. If we logically extend the argument of fatalism then we begin to think, ‘If nothing I do matters, then I can do anything I want to and it will not come back to haunt me.’

We see the truth of the Exodus 20:5 passage demonstrated in the banishment of certain generations of the Israelites from going into the Promised Land when they refuse to trust God to help them take the Promised Land. But, what happens after all of that is the Israelites misinterpret this passage in the way it was not meant to be interpreted. We see this in verses 5 through 13 with regard to what happens to the children of a righteous and just father and his offspring and his offspring’s offspring.

“Suppose a certain man is just and does what is lawful and right, and he has not feasted in the mountains before Israel’s idols or worshiped them. And suppose he does not commit adultery or have intercourse with a woman during her menstrual period. Suppose he is a merciful creditor, not keeping the items given in pledge by poor debtors, and does not rob the poor but instead gives food to the hungry and provides clothes for people in need.

And suppose he grants loans without interest, stays away from injustice, is honest and fair when judging others, and faithfully obeys my laws and regulations. Anyone who does these things is just and will surely live, says the Sovereign Lord. “

But suppose that man has a son who grows up to be a robber or murderer and refuses to do what is right. And suppose that son does all the evil things his father would never do—worships idols on the mountains, commits adultery, oppresses the poor and helpless, steals from debtors by refusing to let them redeem what they have given in pledge, worships idols and takes part in loathsome practices, and lends money at interest. Should such a sinful person live? No! He must die and must take full blame.

“But suppose that sinful son, in turn, has a son who sees his father’s wickedness but decides against that kind of life. Suppose this son refuses to worship idols on the mountains, does not commit adultery, and does not exploit the poor, but instead is fair to debtors and does not rob them. And suppose this son feeds the hungry, provides clothes for the needy, helps the poor, does not lend money at interest, and obeys all my regulations and laws. Such a person will not die because of his father’s sins; he will surely live. But the father will die for the many sins he committed—for being cruel and robbing close relatives, doing what was clearly wrong among his people.”

Then, Ezekiel seems to anticipate the surprise in his audience with this line of thought as we continue into verse 19 and conclude with verse 22, “‘What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the child pay for the parent’s sins?’ No! For if the child does what is right and keeps my laws, that child will surely live. The one who sins is the one who dies. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own goodness, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness. But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my laws and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done.”

Now we address our third question, (6) ‘Why is God saying this to the Israelites now?’

That’s a good question! Let’s quickly review the context of our text before an answer is given.

A couple of important points need to made as to the time and place of this passage. First, Ezekiel was a contemporary of another Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah.

In fact, there is a parallel verse in Jeremiah to Ezekiel 18:2 and 3 that is found in Jeremiah 31:29 and 30. “The people will no longer quote this proverb: ‘the parents eat sour grapes, but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste.’ All people will die for their own sins—those who eat the sour grapes will be the ones whose mouths will pucker.”

Second, Ezekiel wrote from Babylonia while Jeremiah wrote from Jerusalem. Babylonia was the newest and most powerful empire in the world of that day and it was to Babylonia that many Israelites had been exiled because God had done so due to their disobedience. Jerusalem was in ruins, a shadow of her former self.

But, why is God saying this now? Why did He not say this to them earlier? What is so important about the ‘reversing’ of this proverb? Why does God say ‘you won’t say it anymore?’ What does this change of direction mean?

(Good Bible study includes a questioning of the text. Not questions designed to question the truth of what the Lord is saying but to comprehend the truth of what the Lord is saying.)

(7A) Why?  God tells them ‘to correct their assumptions of their fatalistic views and subsequent irresponsibility and to teach them that each person is responsible for their own actions and sins.’

What their proverb was actually saying is that one’s spiritual condition is the result of parental and environmental choices. God is correcting that attitude and mindset. What He is saying is summed up best in verse 4 ‘The person who sins is the person who dies.’ The person who does wrong is responsible for their choice to do wrong. You can’t blame mom or dad. You can’t blame your past.

Now some here this morning may say don’t we have the ability to influence people? We most certainly do have that ability.

But there is a difference between influence and choice. Over the years, there have been people, circumstances, and environments that have, or have attempted to, influence me. But the influence only goes as far as I allow it to go.

And the choices of others have influenced us as well. Some of the choices have been bad choices, terrible choices. Choices that we did not deserve have placed upon us.

In his commentary on this passage, John B Taylor points out, ‘Ezekiel is at pains to say that every man is treated as an individual by God. What happens to him is not dependent purely on heredity (his father’s sins), nor yet on environment (the nation’s sins), but is conditioned by personal choice.’

Another reason God is telling them now is that as part of the restoration that will take place (and we need to read further in Ezekiel to understand this point) requires the people to begin (7B) to stop thinking that others and their environment are to blame for their situation. In verse 20 we read, ‘The one who sins is the one who dies.’

This is a verse about personal responsibility. The choices we make have implications, some (or many) of which, cannot be avoided. We are responsible for our own actions and the consequences of our own actions.

This brings us to the final question and the reason for the title of this sermon. (8) ‘What does it mean for us today?’

In my library is a book that I read several years ago. Its title is ‘The Wounded Parent.’ Written by Guy Greenfield, it tells the story of parents of faith, who have struggled with the choices made by their children that have left them asking the question, ‘Where did we go wrong?’

As I was praying and thinking about my post-Easter sermons, I thought about this time of the year when the family events of Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and graduations bring a bag of mixed emotions to us.

For some they are great days of celebrations and joy. For others they are days of dread, heartache, even anger. The memories are not pleasant. They are painful.

I really felt led to preach this sermon during this time of year because I have had parents over the years I have been a pastor and a youth pastor sit in my office, or tell me over the phone, of the pain and heartache the choices of their children have created in their hearts. One of the questions they have asked themselves is ‘Where did we go wrong?’

I say to those parents this morning that based on the truth of this scripture passage in which God clearly says that we are responsible for our own choices and decisions, (8A) ‘Stop beating yourself up!’

Each of us are responsible for our own decisions and consequences of those actions. While we make some of them under conditions of extreme stress, we also make some of them in moments of anger, jealousy, and frustration in reaction to an event or a conversation. But we make the choice and we cannot blame somebody else for the choices that we make.

I would also remind us today of one true characterization that none of us can deny: (8B) all of us are children of somebody. And we need to prayerfully and carefully consider, if necessary, letting our parents of the hook, for choices that we have made in a moment of anger or rebellion and stop blaming them for our choices.

A third thing that all of us must do is something that I know all of us do whether or not we want to admit it… (8C) we need to stop spending so much time judging the parents whose children make bad choices and start spending more time praying for them.

Come on! Let’s admit that we do this! We get in our groups and we say, ‘Well, it just goes to show you what bad parenting does!’

Enough of the blame game. We need to become people (and we are) of the solution! The solution is simple: Take responsibility for our actions and repent of those that have been made clear to us through the Bible and the Holy Spirit that they are wrong!

Life is too short to go around passing the buck. I have more respect for those who say, ‘I know what I am doing goes against the Bible but I am going to do it anyway,’ than for those who hide and refuse to take responsibility and live in denial about their choices.

We all need grace. We all need forgiveness. We all need God. There is no other way. There is no other hope. There are no other excuses.

To all parents this morning, I simply say, keep loving your kids no matter where they are at with the Lord. Keep praying for them. Keep talking with them. Keep interested in them.

God has not given up your children because God’s love for them is greater than your love for them. They deeply matter to God! He died for them just as He died for you.

Maybe there are issues that need to be addressed between you and your kids, address them! Ask the Lord to help you and your kids to get ready for a much-needed conversation. (Don’t forget to tell them that you love them.) But don’t give up on you kids and stop beating yourself up! This is a good word from the Lord today! Amen.

Sources:

Wilkinson and Boa, Walk Through the Bible. Thomas Nelson Press, 1983 page 212.

Taylor, Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary. IVP, 1969, page 45.

Reasons for Remembering

Scripture Passage – Joshua 4:1-7

Description – 2006 Memorial Day Sermon

(1) 22 years ago next month, President Ronald Reagan, gave what I think is one of the best ‘Memorial Day’ speeches ever given. It was on the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of France that led to the destruction and ultimate surrender of Nazi Germany.

It in he said, “We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs.

Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers [at] the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing.

Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.

Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.

These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war. “

As we remember this Memorial Day weekend, I call your attention to verse 6 of our main text. We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future, your children will ask, (2) ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ It is a meaningful question to ask this day and this weekend because in our text it is a question that will be asked by the generations which follow those who witnessed and participated in the crossing of the Jordan River and the beginning conquest of the Promised Land.

It is a question that is also appropriate to reflect on this time of year with Memorial Day at our doorstep because millions of us have taken time, or will take time, to visit and decorate the graves of those who have served our nation, especially those who gave their lives in times of war for the freedoms and benefits we enjoy today.

Why should we remember those who have died on our behalf? What are the reasons for remembering those who have sacrificed not just for our country but for our faith as well?

Here are several reasons to remember that I would like for you to consider this day and this weekend.

(3) Reason number one: We remember because it is through others that freedom and faith have come.

The gentleman on the left is my Grandfather Kane, Army Air Corps, World War I. He did not make it to France in time for the war as it ended while he was en route. But he was willing to do his part to serve as needed and necessary for his country.

The lady in the middle was his wife, my grandmother. Both of them were people of great faith and I have recently acknowledged the role my grandmother has had in my own faith development.

The gentleman on the right is my late father. That’s his Army graduation photo. He was drafted in 1951 and went to Korea, 2nd Infantry Division.  He saw action on the frontlines. He had a flame thrower blow up in his face as his buddy, who had the dangerous assignment of being his company’s flame thrower, was cleaning it in a tent they were in.

Dad made serving this nation a career and spent nearly 30 years in Civil Service at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

It is people, known and unknown to us (but known to God), that we remember this weekend because it is people, believing in ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ that has made the further pursuit of this ideal possible.

The same holds true for us as followers of Christ. Throughout the Bible, in places such as Hebrews 12:1 which says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith,” and in our main text, we are reminded that our faith is passed from one generation to the next by people who obey the Lord and share the faith in word and action.

As I shared during the two Sundays after Easter, Jesus gave further directions to the remaining disciples about God’s mission and purpose for the church in light of His death and resurrection. This mission and purpose is about people who have demonstrated the love of Christ and lived out that faith in the community of faith and the community in which they live.

(4-7) Who are some of the persons that you remember this day that have contributed to your faith? Who are those that we remember this day who have been vital in the life and growth of this church? Let us give thanks to God for their life and testimony!

(8) The second reason we remember is that we cannot afford to forget.

At the end of what is now the World War 2 exhibit at the Air Force Museum in Dayton is a pillar that contains a quote from the American philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past,” he wrote, “are condemned to repeat it.”

While it may be politically fashionable to forget certain things about our history or to re-write them to fit a particular viewpoint or agenda, the danger from forgetting them is that history has a way of repeating itself.

(9) Forgetting opens us up to failure. A now dwindling number of veterans who have served as guides at the USS Arizona memorial in Hawaii have done so as a reminder to us that forgetting the need to be vigilant and prepared can be costly.

We are also reminded of this vulnerability within the book of Joshua just three chapters after this ceremony and after the great victory at Jericho, Israel forgets God’s rules of engagement and victory, and is soundly defeated at the town of Ai. As we read in verses 10 through 12 of Joshua 7, But the Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why are you lying on your face like this? Israel has sinned and broken my covenant! They have stolen the things that I commanded to be set apart for me. And they have not only stolen them; they have also lied about it and hidden the things among their belongings. That is why the Israelites are running from their enemies in defeat.” Some very painful things took place after this defeat and caused the Israelites great pain and suffering because of their forgetfulness and disobedience.

In remembering those who have sacrificed this weekend we are able to remember the good, and sometimes as necessary, the bad of our history as a nation. This also holds true for our faith and our church.

Granted Paul tells us in Philippians 3:13 that he is forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead and we should as well. But, he also acknowledges the history of his own life and journey in verses 1 through 12 that reminds him of the progress, through Christ, that has taken place in his life because of God’s great grace.

Finally, we remember because the act of remembering is an act of gratitude. (10) I am grateful for the service in times of war and peace of several in this congregation as well as in my family.

I am also grateful for those who have served as mentors of faith down through the years of my life.

Since combat began in Iraq three years ago, the inevitable parallels have been drawn, as the casualty count has gone up and the policy debate about the war has grown louder, to Vietnam.

In book highlighting some of his father’s wit and wisdom, Michael Reagan included an excerpt of comments Ronald Reagan made as governor of California to a group in Atlanta in December 1973 regarding the thoughts and feelings of some of the returning Vietnam POWs. One quote makes me wince with sadness when I read it. “You know, we thought you’d throw rocks at us when we came home.”

I was kid during Nam, and some in this room served there, and I remember how increasingly disrespected the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen were treated by the public. I think that is not true, thankfully, today. (In a few moments, you will be given a chance to express your support in a practical way for several of our community who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

We need to be grateful and thankful for those who have served, in some cases sacrificing their lives, and those also now serving our nation. Not to do so is rude, selfish and ungrateful. What would have happened to this nation, if after December 7, 1941, millions of men and women would have not risen to the defense of this country?

War is a terrible thing. I recall a man who, after his combat service, lost his family because he was so deeply and terribly emotionally scared by his combat. I know that my own father relieved some of his combat experiences in his sleep when he returned home. Not to give thanks to those who serve and not to remember those who gave their lives in the service of our nation, is to gravely disrespect them and our national values. Remembering is act of gratitude.

We also need to remember those who have sacrificed so much for our faith. I think this day of my colleagues in uniform who are serving around the world in difficult and demanding situations. I think of those who serve the Lord in other countries (including two from this church) so that others might experience the saving grace of Christ in their lives.

A recent experience makes me realize just how global the Christian family is as I watched ‘The DaVinci Code’ with a group of international students from the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship Chapter at IPFW. There were students from Africa and elsewhere there, and as I wrote this section I thought, ‘Who were the people that said ‘yes’ to the Lord and helped these people come to faith? (We also had a couple of Muslim refugee students from Africa come along as well.)

What about you? Who do you remember this day as instrumental in your coming to Christ? Who has helped you grow in your faith? Have you expressed gratitude to them if you are able?

(11) So, what do these stones mean to you?  (12) And, what do these stones mean to you? (13) Let me suggest, love, service, sacrifice, and commitment.

Let us conclude this morning by standing as we remember those who have served our nation with the ultimate sacrifice with the playing of ‘Taps.’ (14-16)

(As you leave this morning, we are going to practice remembering and thanking some men and women from our area who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their names were given to me by Denise Helmer who is a part of an area group, Families for Freedom, which exists to support families of military personnel.

There are 20 or 21 names and I have placed a one of those names on each postcard that I will present to Denise next week to send to them. I ask that you sign as many as you can before as you leave. There is not a lot of space so families may wish to sign. Let’s show our support to those who serve in this way of remembering.)

Reagan D-Day speech can be found at http://www.reaganlibrary.com/reagan/speeches

Reagan quote is found in book, In The Words of Ronald Reagan, page 201. ©2004 by Thomas Nelson Publishers. Complied by Michael Reagan.

Being God’s People As A Servant of “God”

Scripture Passage- I Corinthians 1:10-17

Description – First sermon in the summer 2006 Series, “Being God’s People by Serving, Obeying, and Giving.”

(1) During the opening week of June summer is in the air, (A) school is out, camps of all kinds are starting and will draw millions of kids to them, (B) baseball is now headed toward the All-Star break, (C) the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks are duking it out in the NBA finals, (D) NASCAR is in full swing, (E) the NFL will soon start up with its summer training camps with preseason only 8 weeks away, (F) and in Edmonton, Saskatchewan and Durham, North Carolina they turn their thoughts to Lord Stanley’s cup and hockey!

Yes, you heard me correctly, hockey this time of year. It is the Edmonton Oilers verses the Carolina Hurricanes. (Oh, forgot that the open week of June is the opening week of the hurricane season.)

One of the thing about sports that create an endless supply of words, written and spoken, by professional sports writers and commentators as well as millions of sports fans are the many athletes and their quirks that cause words to fly faster than your favorite NASCAR driver around Indy or Charlotte or Texas. One of the biggest sport stories so far this year has been Barry Bonds passing Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron on the all time home run list. Because of the belief that he has used illegal steroids to enhance his performance, Bonds efforts have been tainted by the accusations.

In other words, the history and culture of professional sports in our country, has focused a great deal on sports personalities over the years. But that raises a couple of questions that I am seeking answers to this morning.

Do sports fans root more for a team or for an athlete is my first question. How many of you this morning root for a team no matter who is playing on it or how it performs?

Do sports fans follow a particular athlete no matter what team they play for is my second question. How many of you this morning root for a particular athlete no matter what team they play for?

(2)  As we begin our summer sermon series, “Being God’s People by Serving, Obeying, and Giving,” I want to have us consider who we are ‘playing for,’ if you will, when it comes to our roles and ministries in the church.

The church in Corinth has some issues in this regard and Paul begins to address them almost immediately in this letter, now New Testament book, that we call I Corinthians.

In verse 12 and following we read, “Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” Can Christ be divided into pieces? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul?”

This situation of favoring different preachers or leaders, (and it seems, based at least on what Paul writes in verse 18 of chapter 1 and on into chapter 2, that skilled preaching was considered very important), this situation is a symptom of two common problems today that we need to address and correctly resolve if we are going ‘to play’ for the Lord. Both problems block us from being able to more effectively be God’s people. Both are addressed in our main text and in the opening segment of I Corinthians.

(3) I believe that Steven Covey, who has written extensively on leadership, defines the first problem very well in his book, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,’ as he describes the differences between two major views of personal success called ‘the personality ethic’ and ‘the character ethic.’

He writes that with ‘the personality ethic’ success is “more a function of personality, of public image, of attitudes and behaviors, skills and techniques that lubricate the processes of human interaction.” In contrast, Covey writes that ‘the Character Ethic,’ takes seriously personal traits like “integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty and the Golden Rule.”

The second problem is what I call ‘a form verses content existence.’ In a recent article in the Boston Globe, Scot Leigh laments the decline of good conversation that I think highlights this ‘form verses content existence.’ After citing several contemporary factors such as the Internet, the popularity of ‘blogging’ (which is a form of writing an electronic journal for all to see), and the lack of keeping up with current events, he says, “The enticements of the virtual world and [an excess] of personal-entertainment diversions have pushed discourse to the side.”

What I mean by this ‘form verse content existence,’ is illustrated in challenge of meaningful and real conversation between people in any context, marriage and family life for example, but especially between people of faith. we seem to have settled for short hand conversations or clichéd expressions like this these days (4) instead of more challenging discussions about faith and life that all of us need to have to become more like Christ in life and faith. And I believe that these two issues challenge us in our quest to be God’s people. Paul addressed them in our text which means they are common struggles and temptations to draw us away from consistently following Jesus.

In the opening verses of our main text, Paul says that there is a problem of unity here that needs to be addressed and calls for, in verse 10, a single-minded commitment to unity of thought and purpose and “real harmony” that overcomes differences of opinion and practice.

Why? (5) Unity of purpose, God’s purpose, is essential if we are going to fully follow and faithfully function as God’s servants. Harmony is essential because the church is multi-personal in nature in that God uses all believers to accomplish His desires and plans for us.

The problem of being personality driven and seeking thus becomes a challenge to the unity of and harmony in the church because we are tempted to become ‘people focused’ instead of ‘God focused.’

And in regards to the “form verses content existence,’ we need to remember that words still have great meaning and the Bible has words that contain a great message and reveal a great power and purpose to life that can help us navigate it. We need to pay attention to our words and our conversations and to scripture because it is absolutely necessary for our ability to be God’s servants.

So, when you combine the ever changing preoccupation of the personality ethic with the on-going challenge between the shallowness and depth of our communication and relationships, you are confronted with competing loyalties that cause us to question who we are playing for in all of life, including the church. We have to become clear in who we are playing for, in who we are serving. Is it going to be our own needs and wants, someone else we hold in high regard, or the Lord?

(6) Verse 17 “For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speeches and high-sounding ideas, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.

Now as I wrote this sermon this past week I struggled with writing as clearly as possible what you have just heard. In fact I did a major rewrite of it last night. I thought as I wrote, “How many people am I going to loose by the third paragraph?” I even read part of it to Susan who said something to the effect of “How come you never use illustrations that women can identify with?”

Verse 17 says it all… “For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speeches and high-sounding ideas, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.

Then there are the opening verses of chapter 2. “Dear brothers and sisters, when I first came to you I didn’t use lofty words and brilliant ideas to tell you God’s message. For I decided to concentrate only on Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. I did not use wise and persuasive speeches, but the Holy Spirit was powerful among you. I did this so that you might trust the power of God rather than human wisdom.”

I have been allowed to obtain quite a bit of education. And I believe that I have because I believe that it was what the Lord wanted me to do. I am very grateful for the education that I have received. God has used it in many ways and at different times and places and I give Him the credit and the thanks.

To those we honor this morning who are graduating or have graduated, I would have you think about this. ‘Your education will only take you so far in life. Your work experience will only take you so far in life. Your natural abilities and skills will only take you so far in life. But the Lord, can and will, as you allow Him to, take you all the way!’

I did not realize this until I was 30. I was trying to live my life on past accomplishments (including educational accomplishments,) past connections, past experiences (including spiritual experiences,) and began to forget about God. It was only when I turned back to the Lord and allowed the power of His death and resurrection to really take a hold of me, that I began to re-experience the life that God had for me that I am reminded of in twelve simple words, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

A good education is a very, very important thing no matter if is trade school, tech school, or a four year degree. Improving your educational background and knowledge is vital in having a quality of life that will allow you to be a responsible adult. But there is more to life than education and the pursuit of the good life.

All of us need God. All of us need to be forgiven. All of us need to receive, understand, and then begin to do God’s good and great purpose that He has for each of us.

That is our message as the First Church of God. That is what we are here for – to help people ‘fully follow’ the Lord and ‘fully function’ as His church.

(7)How then do we become a ‘fully following and faithfully functioning’ church? How did we get from there (that’s our church sometime in the mid-1940’s) to here (8) to here (9)? By playing for the right team and the right person.

(10) Who do we play for?

Our Bible text tells us…

We play for the Lord…

The name on our church sign says Church of… God!

Paul rightly points out in our main text that He came to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ and the power of the cross because that is the ‘business’ of the church. The church is in the God business. And God’s business is changing people’s lives for the better through salvation made possible by Jesus Christ.

We do not play for ourselves, not for the pastor, nor another influential believer. We are not in this for ourselves. We come here on Sundays to worship and give thanks to God so that we can go and serve God throughout the rest of the week.

We need to move beyond following someone other than the Lord. We need to get beyond the personality ethic of a particular leader or teacher or pastor. The very important work that we have been given in the great commission is to go and make disciples, (responsible and maturing Christians) because that is what Jesus told us to do. That involves all of us not just a few.

We are here to serve and care. We are not here; at least I am not here, to simply pass the time. God has something good and great for us but it will come to us as we obey Him. Our mission is too important to stand by.

As Paul clearly says, ‘I was sent… to preach the Good News,” that is what we are to do, too.

We also need to move beyond a shorthand and cliché expressions of the faith. We need, together, to think, discuss, pray, and then obey the Word. We need to begin again the fine and excellent art of the conversation of faith.

Yet, we also need to move beyond the ‘clever speeches and high-sounding ideas’ that Paul was concerned would cloud the great message of the cross – the message of salvation and transformation. We need to remember what Paul says is the content of our faith. Not high sounding words but ‘the Good News’ of ‘Jesus Christ and his death on the cross.’

(11) What is the Lord saying to us through His word today?

Follow me… not someone else….they are merely my servants.

Don’t get caught up in the form the presentation of what you hear… listen for and seek my will and power behind it!

If you are going to serve me… do so as my servants… you ‘play’ for me! Amen.

Sources:

Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, pages 18 and 19.

Leigh’s article can be found at: www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2006/06/08/lamenting_the_decline_of_good_conversation?mode=PF