5th Sunday after Epiphany (C)
February 5, 1995
Making Something Out of Nothing
(Luke 5:1-11)
It happened frequently while Jesus walked the tranquil acres of Galilee. He made something out of nothing. It was one of the outstanding epiphanies of His Messiahship. Incredibly, He supplanted negative factors with positive results. For instance: life replaced death. Water was transformed into wine. The sick became well, the hungry fed, and the insane were made normal. He can still make something out of nothing. He can still pull sin inside out and provide the delight of unimagined virtue.
It is imperative that we learn from the Gospel writers the steps involved. We must do so — not so we can imitate His power like novices trying to outdo magician David Copperfield. Jesus was no magician. It was might, the Divine might that no one can duplicate but that faithful can appropriate. It was muscular love, powerful and generous.
The Sea of Galilee is a modest fresh-water lake that is no more than thirteen miles long, only seven miles wide, and 197 feet deep at its deepest. The Sea of Galilee is 680 feet below sea level, which makes the landscape around it a tropical Eden and the lake itself a paradise teeming with plentiful fish. When Jesus lived there, the shoreline was populated with nine townships no smaller than 15,000 persons each, says William Barclay.
It was an ideal setting for Jesus’ ministry. The climate was mild, the people plentiful, and outdoor preaching easily accomplished. Since He was literally thrown out of the synagogue in Nazareth and barely escaped with His life (Luke 4:16ff), Jesus opted for the open spaces and did most of His preaching in the open air near Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee. Luke describes a day like that.
People, eager to hear His every word, press so close that, on this day, Jesus is virtually backed into the lake. Good naturedly, Jesus steps into one of the boats — one belonging to Simon Peter — who as yet is not a disciple. Jesus makes it His floating pulpit. He has more to say to the enthusiastic crowd which crams around Him. His sermon is not finished. He is not given to quicky speeches or hasty homilies. The eagerness of the crowd encourages Him to share much more in words. Their hunger prompts Him to not only feed their souls, but to provide physical foods as well.
“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch,” commands Jesus to the nearby fishermen.
“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing,” explains a weary Simon. Quickly he added, “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
It was long past fishing time. At night is when the great shoals of fish can be easily netted, but the fishermen had not succeeded in the darkness that night. Sunlight discourages fishing, but Jesus lets nothing discourage Him. He is capable of making something out of nothing. And there, on the rippling waters of Galilee, it happened again.
But exactly what took place? There was but the Lord’s command and Simon’s obedience. That was all; nothing more. Yet look at the result! It was the Lord’s command and the prompt obedience to it that produced such a harvest of fish that “they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them.”
It was too amazing. Simon Peter knew it was no ordinary fishing luck that Jesus exhibited. Peter was frightened, this Big Fisherman.
“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” said the awestruck Galilean. Peter’s cry was that of a man seeing the miracle of something made out of nothing. Empty nets were filling to overflowing; barren hearts were swelling with joy; eyes dull from a lackluster night’s fishing expedition were brightening to astonishment. Jesus does that. He frequently makes something out of nothing. Even yet.
There is more here than the rhythm of cause-and-effect. Whenever we follow the command of the Lord unhesitatingly and faithfully, He surprises us, for obedience is more than a rigid compliance with a request. It is plugging into the source of energy that makes something out of nothing. It is trusting Him, being faithful, accepting His Word and His outcome. It is being energized with His love. It is moving to the rhythm of His love so that we can share love ourselves.
The Savior used other means to make something out of nothing, but there by the seashore near Capernaum Jesus gave a command that was obeyed and a rich harvest of fish was the result. We do well to learn from this marvelous episode not to be hesitant in our obedience to the instructions of the Lord. Yet the great catch of fish was not the only miracle to follow that day’s preaching along the waterfront of Capernaum. Peter, James and John were to fish for more than carp, catfish and Galilee cichlids that thrive in the Sea of Galilee. Jesus said to them, “From now on you will be catching people.”
Luke tells us, “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed Him.” Jesus was about to make something important out of the ostensible nothingness of humble fishermen. They would change the world. They would become members of a small Christian army of disciples who would eventually invade the whole Earth and conquer much of it was the joy of Jesus. Here, once again, Jesus’ pattern was employed. The Lord commanded — not with bitter demand, but undeniable persuasion — and that trio of fishermen obeyed, not with blind ignorance, mind you, but with simple faith. And the result is Christianity worldwide! This was a greater miracle than the great haul of fish, and the better evidence of the Lord’s Messianic authenticity. It was not the love of fish but the love of people, not the haul of fish but the harvest of sinners that made this event memorable.
Here, then, is a lesson for all of us. It is not the extremes of piety that effect miraculous change, nor thundering voices from the heavens, but the simple will to obey the commonplace commands the Savior issues. He still makes His will known today. We hear it in His Word, the Word read and the Word preached. We can listen to it in meditation and discover it in contemplation. We can find it in Christian prayer and uncover it in openness and obedience.
This event in Jesus’ ministry says that His Church may become full like the empty nets of the fishermen if we take His command to heart and set sail to catch people; if we become partners in the enterprise, as Peter summoned James and John. Fishing for people is not the sole duty of any one person, but the responsibility of every Christian.
Writes Leighton Ford, “There are too many churches with impeccable credentials for orthodox theology whose outreach is almost nil. They are sound, but they are sound asleep.” Adds Ford, “It is far too easy for the Church to become a sort of religious clique where Christians retreat from the world.” He writes about a Chinese university student in Ann Arbor, who spent four years hiding in the attic of First Methodist Church there because he was failing. His hair was down to his shoulders; his skin was pallid. Yet he represents us when we fail to share Christ, to obey His command to “make disciples” (The Christian Persuader).
To be sure, the twelve disciples spent at least three years in personalized training with Jesus. Much of what they learned is preserved for us in the Gospels. Read them earnestly in order to join in their training. Paul was trained in another way. He, too, spent three years learning, but it was in the wilderness that he was prepared to fish for people. You would think that in the dry desert it would be impossible to learn anything about fishing — but it is not impossible when Jesus does the teaching, and the fishing is for people.
Jesus wants to set us free to set others free. It can’t be done just inside the walls of a church. The four Gospels record 132 direct contacts that Jesus had with people. Only ten of those contacts took place inside a synagogue or the Temple. The remaining 122 were contacts He made out in the community. Matthew Prince tells us, “If we follow Christ’s example, we will break out of the holy huddle.”
Wouldn’t you like to see Jesus make something out of nothing again? (RA)
6th Sunday after Epiphany (C)
February 12, 1995
The Glad Good News of Original Sin
(Jeremiah 17:5-14)
The mother of Charles William Eliot, who was to be the president of Harvard University and a powerful influence in American education, is reported to have protested to a friend who had joined the Episcopal Church. Recalling the words of the “General Confession,” she said, “Eliza, do you kneel down in church and call yourself a miserable sinner? Neither I nor any of my family will ever do that!” (Methodists must agree, for we took that phrase out of the General Confession!)
I. None of Us Enjoys Being Told that We are Sinners.
When the beloved autocrat in Clarence Day’s Life With Father interrupts the prayer of his wife Vinnie’s pastor to tell God that the pastor is wrong, that Vinnie is not a poor sinner, he speaks for most of us. Mr. Day sees his wife’s goodness, her charity. She is a good mother and a good wife. Yet, while he is right in protesting pompous piety, he was wrong in insisting upon his wife’s sinlessness. Even Vinnie Day was a fallible human being like the rest of us — in other words, a poor sinner.
We don’t like to hear that. It goes against the grain. We’d rather live with the illusion that we are merely maladjusted angels but not sinners. The folks over there — they may be sinners. We are not. To paraphrase the title of a popular book:”I’m O.K. — you, I’m not so sure about!”
Theologian Paul Tillich told us that, in reality, sin is alienation; and we are alienated in three ways: from God, the Ground of our Being; from others; and from our own truest and best selves — the selves God made us to be. We are all sinners, born of sinners, who were born of sinners, ad infinitum. It is hard to convince average, decent, law-abiding churchgoers that we are sinners; but that is what we all are, dear friends. All have not sinned alike, but all alike have sinned. “Sin” is the human condition.
Jeremiah looked into the hearts of his people and saw darkness. The historical situation was a familiar one: people putting their trust in just about anything except God. Tillich was right: our problem is not atheism but idolatry. The people were worshipping the asherim — the popular pagan gods of the day. The sin of his people, he said, is engraved on the heart, the conscience, the mind of people, like an inscription chiseled into a rock face by an iron tool or a diamond point. There is no way in which it can be rubbed out or ignored. No doubt the people would have admitted they had made a few mistakes, but could it not all be taken care of by a good dose of religion?
No, answers Jeremiah, religion is the root of your problem. Often it is a method of escaping, or trying to escape, the judgment of God. The sin of Judah is engraved on “the horns of their altars.” The horns of the altar projected upwards from the four corners. They were made of stone, and carved into a horn shape — I’ve seen many of them in excavation in the Holy Land. Whenever sacrifice was offered to God to deal with the sins of the people, some of the blood of the animal was smeared on the horns of the altar (Lev. 4:7).
But a little blood splashed on a stone cannot cleanse the heart of the people, said Jeremiah. There is plenty of religion around: they have given their devotion to asherim — fertility gods and goddesses. We tend to deplore half-empty churches and the decline in religion, but that was not Jeremiah’s problem. Religion in his day was big business, but it was the great illusion. In Jeremiah’s day the streets of the cities were filled with images and symbols of pagan gods. One might even draw some parallels to our own day, if we looked around a bit. You see, anything good can be corrupted — even religion. Did you know that our word “bigot” originally came from “by God”? And “hocus-pocus” came from the Latin Hoc Est Corpus Meum, meaning “This is my Body” — and referred to the act whereby the priest was supposed to transform the bread and wine into the literal body and blood of Christ. Religion can so easily degenerate into superstition.
Jeremiah reflects on the perversity of the human heart or mind. The human race can produce a St. Francis and a Hitler, a Mother Theresa and an Ayatollah Khomeini. Our motives are often hard to understand — even by those closest to us. Does anyone know what really goes on in the human heart? Only God, claims Jeremiah in verse 10: “I, the Lord, search the mind and try the heart.” The Hebrew word translated “mind,” in the first half of this verse, is the same Hebrew word translated “heart” in verse 9, while the word translated “heart” is the Hebrew word for “kidneys.” The kidneys were thought to be the seat of human emotions in ancient Hebrew psychology. “Mind” and “heart” are used here to describe the whole range of a person’s inner life. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
II. All of Us Have “Heart Trouble.”
At a Methodist Annual Conference meeting over twenty years ago, the conference preacher was the great Presbyterian George Arthur Buttrick. At one point in his sermon, Buttrick looked up from his notes, stepped beside the pulpit, pointed his finger at the congregation, and said, “Some of you Methodist preachers, I hear, do not believe in original sin. I have only one thing to say to you: Look into your own hearts!” He got our attention! And he was right!
Here is my definition of original sin. You won’t find it in any catechism, but I am fond of it. I define original sin as “our infinite capacity for lousing things up.” I agree with G. K. Chesterton who said that of all the Christian doctrines, original sin is the only one that is provable — all one needs do is look around.
I once heard the story of two theologians who were deep in discussion. One asked, “Do you believe in original sin?” The second replied: “Of course. My wife and I have a child.” Then came the next question “Do you believe in Total Depravity?” To which the second man replied. “No. That’s a pessimistic Calvinistic doctrine.” The first man then said, “Just wait until you have two children!”
Original sin is “our infinite capacity for lousing things up.” It’s there, believe me! We can take anything good — religion, sex, food, drink, nuclear power — and twist it and misuse it and abuse it to our own detriment and the world’s danger. We are stubborn, self-willed, self-centered creatures. All have not sinned alike, but all alike have sinned. It “goes with the territory;” it is a part of the human condition — all humans.
A healthy doctrine of original sin has kept me from a good deal of disappointment in this life. I’m not surprised when things and people go wrong; I stand amazed when things and people go right — and the miracle is that they do, once in a while, by the grace of God!
The Bible speaks of sin as sickness and bondage. What is implied in such analogies is that we do not have within ourselves the power to achieve that for which we were created. Jesus said that the whole of the Law could be summed up in two commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. It sounds simple — but it isn’t easy. Few of us ever come close. Do you honestly love your neighbor as you love yourself? That’s a tall order! The popularity of books on “Looking out for Number One” gives the lie to any such pretensions.
When Luther and Calvin said that we are totally depraved, they did not mean that we are incapable of doing anything good. What they were saying is that even our goodness is tainted. We are, to use their words, “curved in upon ourselves.” (Seeing a group photograph in which we appear, whose image do we look for first?) Curved in upon ourselves, even our best and brightest deeds are tainted. Created to love God and our neighbors, we find ourselves curved in upon ourselves, preoccupied with our own ends. We may give generously to the poor, but we do so to make ourselves feel good or earn brownie points with God. We are religious because we believe that being religious will win for us joy in heaven, protect us from earthly ills, and bring us happiness and peace of mind in this life. We dare not examine our motives too closely. Original sin explains our human condition.
III. What is the “Good News” of Original Sin?
Original sin sounds more like “bad news.” Well, the phrase “glad good news” comes from the writings of G. K. Chesterton who wrote, in a book on St. Francis of Assisi, these startling words: “The glad good news brought by the Gospel was the news of original sin” (G. K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi, New York: George H. Doran Co., 1924, p. 39). Why good news? Because to be a sinner is a token of our human greatness. Only creatures created in the image of God can exercise their godlike endowment by rebelling against their Creator. Created in freedom, we have rebelled. The “good news” of original sin is that there is a covenant relationship with a creator God for which we have been created. We have been created to be like Jesus Christ. He is our pattern and our goal. Human beings, as we meet them on the street and see them on the television tube, are not what God intends for us to be.
The Fall is not something that happened “back then”; it is a description of what theologians and philosophers call our “existential predicament.” We don’t even need the biblical story of Adam to demonstrate the reality of humanity’s fall. Having Christ, it is enough. We can say, “I’m not perfect, but I’m as good as the next fellow,” but you cannot say that when the “next Fellow” is Christ! And, according to the Bible, Christ is God’s plumbline to measure our humanity. “True God and True Man,” the creeds say of Him. Standing before Him we can only say with Peter of old, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8). We — you and I — are “fallen” creatures, you and I are less than God intends us to be.
A falling presupposes a step or a riser from which to fall, just as a divorce presupposes a marriage. Chesterton wrote elsewhere: “If I wish to dissuade a man from drinking his tenth whiskey and soda, I slap him on the back and say ‘Be a man!’ No one who wished to dissuade a crocodile from eating its tenth explorer would slap it on the back and say ‘Be a crocodile’!” That is precisely what Adam was doing. The matchless beauty of the Genesis story is this: created for God, we said “no” — and the nuptial drama began with a divorce. Yet, the cross of Christ effects a reconciliation. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).
“The heart is deceitful above all things. Who can understand it?” God can! Christ can! He knows what we really are — and loves us anyway. Jeremiah prayed, “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for thou art my praise.” That prayer was not fully answered until six centuries later when an angelic choir proclaimed on a Judean hillside: “Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior” (Luke 2:11).
C. S. Lewis said that it is humility, not arrogance, to say that deity has visited us on this planet, for we are a fallen race in need of redemption! If, being curved in upon ourselves, we cannot be cured by our own efforts, what’s the answer? The cure for being curved in upon one’s self lies not in denying or hating one’s self but by forgetting one’s self. And how on earth can we do that? The more we concentrate upon forgetting ourselves, the more we think of ourselves. Thus, it is a sound principle of psychology and of life experience that we forget something by becoming preoccupied with something else, not by trying to forget. This occurs when we truly love, when we forget our own interests and seek to satisfy the interests of the one we love. If we accept God’s love with a loving trust, inevitably we desire to please God, because it is of the very nature of love that it wishes to please the beloved.
John Wesley preached again and again a sermon on the subject of original sin. He was troubled by popular preachers trying to convince people there was really nothing much wrong with them or their world — that a little social tinkering here and there would make a heaven on earth. Meanwhile, people were bent on making hells on earth (just as today). Wesley believed that, without God’s aid and without a recognition of their true fallen condition, people would continue their tragic ways to destruction. And so he said: “Keep to the plain, old faith, ‘once delivered to the saints,’ and delivered by the spirit of God to our hearts. Know your disease! Know your cure! Ye were born in sin: therefore, ‘ye must be born again,’ born of God. Now, ‘go on from faith to faith,’ until your whole sickness be healed, and the ‘mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus’!” (DBS)
7th Sunday after Epiphany (C)
February 19, 1995
Loving Beyond Ourselves
(Luke 6:27-28)
When I was a small child and my grandmother came for a visit, I would run to her as she entered the door, throw my arms around her, give her a big squeeze, and then exclaim, “What’da bring me?”
That’s behavior we might excuse in a child but we’d find offensive in an adult. Yet the same “What’da bring me?” principle is at work in many if not most of our relationships. We still tend to judge most relationships on the basis of what they do for us: Do I enjoy being with them? Do they satisfy some need in my life? Can they do something for me?
That’s because, for most of humanity, our driving force is self; our own will sits on the throne of our lives and most events, people, and things are judged on the basis of their value to that self.
In the gospels, Jesus has proclaimed a revolutionary change for all of humanity: we are to take self off the throne of our lives and place God there. We are to make Christ the Lord of our lives. And in this text Jesus is helping us understand that one of the implications of that fundamental change is that love becomes a dominating principle of our lives. And that love even extends to those who are “unlovely” — to those who are not our friends and may even be actively opposed to us.
Jesus calls us to love beyond ourselves. What does that kind of love look like?
I. Authentic Love Seeks the Best for Others
Our natural human instinct is to seek the best for ourselves. But in a life in which God’s love has become the driving force, we also seek the best for others, including those who dislike or even abuse us.
This is the real “tough love” — to act in love toward the neighbor who is constantly taking advantage of you, or the business colleague who is always trying to get ahead of you, or the person at your school who spreads false stories about you. We are to act in a way that always seeks the best for that person, and that is tough!
The operative principle is found in verse 31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” It’s what we used to call the golden rule, before American culture distorted that idea into “He who has the gold makes the rules!” When you have placed God on the throne of your life, then you have a new motivation and a new master. The true “golden rule” of verse 31 embodies what it means to love beyond ourselves.
II. Authentic Love Does Not Expect Repayment
“Well, suppose I do love those lousy people at the office,” we ask. “What am I going to get out of it?”
If that’s our question, then we’ve already missed the point, for authentic love seeks the best for others without concern for repayment or reward. To love only those who will repay love is nothing special; it’s the way the world works: you scratch my back, I scratch yours.
Yet authentic love, Christ-centered love, goes beyond concern for the self. Jesus calls us to love those who can’t or won’t repay our love. Only then do we truly experience what it means to love beyond ourselves — only then do we sense what it means to love as God loves us (v. 36).
III. Authentic Love Leaves Judgment to God
Christ calls us to experience love that is committed to seeking the best for others, without concern for repayment and without clinging to bitter or harsh attitudes.
In verse 37, we are instructed not to “judge” or “condemn.” Both words express a bitter or vindictive attitude: “He’ll get his one of these days.” “She’s going to get what’s coming to her.” When we allow our hearts to harbor bitterness, it pushes love out of its central position. It’s impossible to love and hate at the same time.
The solution is found in the same verse: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Loving beyond ourselves involves letting forgiveness so grow in our hearts that there is no more room for bitterness or a judging attitude. Judgment is God’s job; He’s better equipped to handle it than we are.
Love and forgiveness go hand in hand. One of the key truths about forgiveness is that you won’t truly feel it in your own life until you start giving it away. Forgiveness may well be the single most important element in loving beyond ourselves.
Our world talks about love so much; the word is tossed about in soap operas and popular music in such a way that it’s amazing anybody knows what it means. But Jesus Christ went to the cross to demonstrate what authentic love really is, and He calls us to a new life that models such love in our own lives — that a lost world might see and know the truth. (JMD)
8th Sunday after Epiphany (C)
February 26, 1995
Dealing with Death and Dying
(1 Corinthians 15:51-58)
From the beginning of time people have dreamed of being able to walk between two worlds, to have the ability to walk between this world and the spiritual world. When Jesus arose from the dead, He showed us a body that transcends time and space and walks in the spiritual world. The Bible tells us we are going to have that kind of body.
When He speaks the word, we shall all be changed. That is what the Bible says. Bodies that are sown in weakness shall be raised in strength. Bodies that are sown in dishonor shall be raised in glory. Bodies that are sown mortally shall be raised in immortality. And bodies that are perishable shall be raised imperishable. Each of us, God’s children, shall have a body like Jesus.
Bob Ingersoll, an avowed atheist of years ago, traveled around giving lectures against the Christian faith. One of his favorite points of attack was the miracles. He came up with the preposterous story that Mary and Martha were hiding Lazarus in the tomb and had staged the resurrection of Lazarus! That is why Jesus cried out, “Lazarus, come forth!” Ingersoll posed the question, “Why did Jesus call Lazarus by name?” During one such delivery of that ridiculous speech, a fellow responded, “Brother Bob, if He had not called Lazarus by name, every dead person in that cemetery would have jumped up and risen to this Lord!”
God has already won the victory, and as God’s child you have already won the victory. You and I are just waiting to claim the victory that is already ours. Because Jesus lives, we shall live also. What does that mean?
I. It means we can handle the death of loved ones creatively.
Death is the most common experience on our planet. Over 5,000 people die in the United States every day. It is a common occurrence, but when death touches our lives and when we lose someone we love, it is anything but ordinary or common. It hurts! When we lose someone we love, it hurts!
God is Lord of life and light. Death as we know it in this existence stands against God and everything He stands for. Death is the enemy. The Bible promises us, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that we already have the victory over our greatest enemy, the enemy of death.
When we realize that we have victory over death, we can then handle deaths of loved ones creatively. The process of grief is a fairly uniform process. Some of us work through grief in a matter of hours or days while for others it takes weeks or months. Sometimes, tragically, it even takes years. But the process through which we go is a fairly uniform one. It begins with an initial shock and disbelief. It carries through with such stages as anger, hostility, guilt, pre-occupation with the loss, and physical symptoms. As we move through the darkness of these various stages we begin slowly to adjust. We begin to see the light flickering through and gradually we begin to adjust to the loss and to reality.
God is with us every step of the way. When Jesus came to the village of Bethany and saw Martha and Mary grieving over the loss of their brother, Jesus didn’t spout pious platitudes. He didn’t tell them they ought to be ashamed of themselves land to go read their Bibles. He didn’t even detail the process of grief. No, Jesus stood beside them and He wept! When we go through these agonizing ordeals of losing those we love, Christ is right by our side, suffering with us. When we realize that Christ is with us, we can handle even our greatest enemy — the enemy of death.
II. We can also look forward to the future.
In a sense, we can plan our own deaths. The 11th chapter of Hebrews tells us that Jacob, Joseph, and Isaac prepared for their own deaths by equipping their families and children with blessings and promises for the future. If you could write your own epitaph, what would you write? One epitaph says, “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” My favorite one reads, “See, I told you I was sick!”
What statement would you leave behind that would characterize your life? Each day we are living lives that create that statement. Many people are preparing for death in the wrong way. They are scripting their own deaths. Tragic examples abound; one might be the famous country singer who lived his life in such a way that he would die young as his father had.
Some of us not only wrongly script our lives and deaths, some of us try to deny death. We pretend it isn’t going to happen. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross writes that the poor die easier; they can let go. Yet, middle-class Americans — with all of our things and possessions — do not let go so easily. We want to cling to that which we have spent our lives collecting.
The presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives assures us of the ultimate victory over death itself. Because He lives, we can handle the deaths of others in creative ways. We can creatively prepare for our own deaths by living lives that are hopeful, loving, caring, and encouraging. We can live life to its fullest! We can live so that every day prepares us for the life to come.
How does the Christian respond to death? In verse 55, Paul taunts, “Oh, death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory?” We know that ultimate victory belongs in Jesus Christ. Because we know Him, we can live each day to its fullest. We can seize each and every moment, each and every hour, each and every day as being the special gift of God that it is. If we really believe this Word, we seize each and every moment as God’s precious gift to us.
Several years ago Merv Griffin had a group of body-builders on his show — muscles everywhere! They started posing. Finally, Merv said, “Tell me, what do you do with those muscles?” Again, they began to pose. He said, “No, no! Tell me, what do you do with all those muscles?”
What do you do with your muscles? What do you do with your time? What do you do with your opportunities with other people? What do you do with the situations with which you are confronted every day of your life? What do you do with your time and your talents and your abilities and your opportunities?
Jesus has taken care of death. We win! The verdict is in. I’ve read the end of the book; we win! God guarantees that. Now the question is: “What do you do with your life?”
It was Victor Hugo who said, “When you were born, you cried; and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a way that when you die, the world will cry and you will rejoice.” Because Christ lives, we live also — today and tomorrow. (GLC)
1st Sunday of Lent (C)
March 5, 1995
Three Lessons of Temptation
(Luke 4:1-13)
A rather attractive woman was sitting in a drugstore, enjoying the last tempting bites of a chocolate sundae. After finishing, she walked over to the drugstore scale. Putting a penny in the scale, she was shocked by its reading. So she took off her coat, put another penny in, and weighed again. Still unhappy with the results, she removed her shoes and the scarf around her neck, put in another penny, and received a reading that again displeased her. She then noticed a young boy who was watching the whole procedure. She looked at the child with a disgusted eye and said, “Well, what do you want?” The young boy said, “I just wanted to tell you, don’t stop now. I’ve got a whole pocketful of pennies.”
We make jokes about temptation. We may even flirt with it; but seldom do we take it seriously, considering it a force we can control. We think we have mastery over it. And yet the Bible attempts again and again to tell us that we struggle with something greater than ourselves. Even the best of us can fall prey to the voice of temptation. Listen to Jesus’ story.
According to Luke’s Gospel, no sooner had Jesus felt the power of God move in His life through that baptism experience with John at the Jordan than the devil makes an appearance. True to the experience of many of us, Jesus went from a spiritual high to a time of severe temptation. In fact, in Luke’s Gospel, the only thing separating the baptism of Jesus from His temptation by satan is a listing of His family roots.
Luke records that Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit out to the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil for forty days. Knowing of His forty-day fast, the devil immediately tempts Jesus with the making of bread from stones. Knowing of His newly-found purpose and newly-assured Messiahship, the devil immediately talks of authority and splendor. Knowing of His importance and power, the devil talks of doing miraculous things.
It’s a cunning voice, a sly presentation, a bending of rules and even Scripture — it is the voice of satan trying to tempt Jesus. The temptation itself is actually a simple one. Using three separate words (vv. 3, 6, 9), satan says to Jesus, “Do something big, give us the spectacular, put on the big show.” It’s a word that we have been tempted to utter, “I’ll have faith when I see the miraculous events.” It is a voice that seeks to destroy our faith by asking for signs. It’s a voice that says, “If you can’t see any signs, there must not be anything to it. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
Faith must always go beyond that which we can see, feel, or touch. If we have to have sensational demonstrations to validate our faith, then we have no real faith. Satan was asking Jesus to compromise the whole realm of spiritual faith by turning belief and confession into some sideshow. Faith for us is a relationship to a loving Father, not a loyalty to a cheap bag of tricks. Satan said, “Give me proof that you are the Son of God, then I’ll have faith.” Paul writes, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen.”
Here are three conclusions, or rules, about temptation, how it works, and how it seeks to affect us.
I. Lesson 1. Temptation comes to everyone.
Perhaps the most frightening thing about this scripture passage is that the temptation comes to Christ. If temptation can come to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the One who has all authority on heaven and on earth, then it can come to you and me, too!
I have watched three ministry friends have their ministries destroyed as a result of temptations. This doesn’t mean they are bad people; all three are godly men who love the Lord and who have served Him well. But it does show their humanity. If temptation can destroy pastor and leaders, if temptation can wreck and ruin the work that God wills to do in a person’s life, then we better be on our guard. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”
Temptation brings the spectrum of humanity to level ground. Kings and paupers, presidents and beggars are all confronted by temptations. There is no safeguard, no preventive measures to take. The devil can attack any Christian at any level. There is no invisible force field around us to keep temptation’s enticements from coming our way. Our only hope is in the knowledge that when it does come, we can be more than conquerors through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Some drug dealers went to the captain of an oil tanker that made regular trips from South America to Los Angeles. They offered him $10,000 to carry a load of cocaine. He refused. They came back the next day with an offer of $50,000. Again he refused. Then they came again and offered $150,000; this time he called the FBI, who put together a sting operation and caught the drug runners. They seized the shipment of drugs along with $340,000 in cash, plus a list of buyers in the LA area. After the arrests, a federal agent asked, “Why did you wait until they offered $150,000 before you called us?” The captain replied, “They were getting pretty close to my price and I was scared of what I might do.”
Lesson 1. Temptation comes to everyone.
II. Lesson 2. Temptation is always anti-God.
Look again at the three temptation of Jesus in this passage. The first (v. 3) was that of making bread. Translation: Forget God. Satan tried to convince Jesus that bread would satisfy His desires. Satan was saying to Jesus that His sufficiency would come from His own hands and not from God.
The second temptation (v. 6) is the request of the devil for Jesus to worship him. Translation: Cast off God. Replace God as the object of your worship. Let other things be of greater importance. Let other relationships take precedence.
The third temptation is also anti-God. “Throw yourself down, the angels will come” (v. 9). Translation: Test God. Force His hand; don’t let His will be sovereign in your life.
Every temptation of satan is anti-God. It seeks to destroy our relationship with Him, our faith in Him, our fellowship with His people. That’s the nature of temptation; that’s the nature of satan.
It is very important to distinguish between temptation and testing; both are mentioned in Scripture and they are very different. Temptation is of satan — it is evil in intent, and it leads to spiritual death. On the other hand, testing is of God; it has spiritual growth and development as its intent, and it leads to an enduring faith.
To distinguish real temptation when it comes your way, ask the simple question: “Does this action — this thought, this attitude — harm my walk with the Lord; does it force me to betray God and His will for my life?” If the answer is “yes,” that’s temptation, and you and I must run from it.
Lesson 2. Temptation is always anti-God.
III. Lesson 3. Temptation keeps coming.
Verse 13 in our focus passage is one of the most frightening verses in the Bible. “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time.” Jesus had won round one, but the fight continued. Satan, as a crafty and cunning adversary, knows when to attack us. He knows our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities. He knows that persistently wearing us down will often carry the day.
The devil left Jesus until an opportune time. When do you think that was? Maybe he came only days later when Jesus returned home to Nazareth and tried to begin His ministry. Luke 4:28-30 tells of His rejection and of how He was run out of town. Maybe he came that day when Jesus healed the Gerasene demoniac. The heavens rejoiced but not the townspeople; they asked Him to leave.
Maybe he came the day when Jesus talked to His disciples about dying. Peter said, “God forbid that this shall ever happen to you.” Jesus replied, “Get behind me, satan, you are a stumbling block to me.” Or maybe he came on the night when Peter denied the Lord three times. Here, one of His closest followers quickly claimed that he did not even know the man.
Maybe Jesus heard his voice — “Don’t do it” — while praying in the garden. Jesus said, “Not my will but Thine.” Even on the cross Jesus heard the voice. How He must have wrestled with the temptation to step down from the cross and put an end to His pain.
Throughout His ministry, the voice kept coming. It won’t leave us alone either. It’s a daily struggle and only in the power of Christ do we have the hope of victory.
Lesson 3. Temptation keeps coming.
Two movers were struggling with a huge crate, trying to get it through a doorway. After strenuous but futile effort, they became exhausted. As they sat the crate down, one of them said, “I give up, well never get this thing in there.”
“In there?” questioned his partner. “I thought we were trying to get it out!” Know your enemy and recognize which direction he is trying to pull your life. The devil will always pull you away from God.
May God give us the power to overcome temptation through Jesus Christ our Lord. (JRR)
2nd Sunday of Lent (C)
March 12, 1995
The Lord’s Legacy
(Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18)
“We love God,” John said, “because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Because of God’s lavish love for us, loving God presents us with a real struggle: how can we love God? Not even Hallmark has a card able to articulate the perfect love in the deepest recesses of the heart, mind, soul, and body that so easily moves to the beloved. Yet, when you feel that perfect kind of love, you often feel frustrated because there are no gifts perfect enough to express it.
God perfectly expressed His love for us in Jesus. God gave us His heart in Jesus. And though the lyrics go back to 1782, there is an old standard hymn most recently made popular by Godspell that tells us what we can give our beloved: “Accept the gifts we offer for all Thy love imparts, and what Thou most desirest, our humble, thankful hearts.” When you give your heart — and in the Bible the heart refers to everything a person is emotionally and intellectually, spiritually and physically — you give your all. Is that what you want to give to your beloved? That’s what God gave to us. That’s the Lord’s legacy. And that’s what God expects and desires from us.
Abraham’s love for God came from the heart. And whenever Abraham’s beloved called, he would not deny any part of his heart to God. The Lord called to Abraham, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Gen. 12). That’s the covenant: God calls, we go. As that great Old Testament scholar, Berhard W. Anderson, used to tell us in seminary, “God’s people are always on the move. They are always moving as God calls them to get up and go.” If we have a heart for our beloved, our hearts go with Him.
You may discover that people who always seem to want to debate or argue or contend aren’t among the happier people in this world. The need to argue and contend betrays their insecurity and uncertainty about what they pretend to believe or affirm. When you believe, however, you are more calm than contentious. When you believe in God, you know the only right choice is to go where God calls. The happy and whole and secure and joyful people of this world go where God leads. The Lord said to Abraham, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” Abraham went. Abraham performed his part of the covenant.
Of course, God’s covenant with Abraham is now God’s call to us to enter into the same kind of deal. As we look at this particular covenant, we discover how the Lord’s legacy continues to be felt and experienced by the faithful.
I. God’s bequest to Abraham reminds us of the Lord’s legacy of love.
When we think of God, the first words that come to mind are Father, love, care, and the like. John succinctly summarized the Lord’s legacy: “God is love” (1 John 4:16). God is always loving us.
When God called Abraham into a covenant relationship, God promised to bless him. God promised to give Abraham more than he deserved or dared to dream. That’s also the Lord’s legacy of love for you and me and all of the faithful.
II. Abraham’s belief in God’s bequest reminds us to faithfully embrace the Lord’s legacy of love.
God instructed Abraham, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars, if indeed you can count them … So shall your offspring be.” And this was Abraham’s response to God’s bequest: “Abraham believed the Lord.” He rooted himself in the promises of God for his life; he had confidence in God; he did not doubt God’s faithfulness to him — that’s why Abraham went where God led even though he had no earthly idea of where God was leading him. God called, Abraham went.
“Faith,” wrote Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking (1973), “is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway. A journey without maps.”
Faith is not management by objective. Faith isn’t an inflexible set of mission goals. Faith is stepping out of the boat and walking with Jesus. Faith is reaching out for the hand of the Holy Spirit to lead you through life.
I am reminded of Bishop Newbigin and the negotiations which led to the formation of the United Church of South India. After negotiations were frequently stalled because of excessively cautious people who wished to know each step before it was taken, Newbigin finally said, “a Christian has no right to ask where he is going.”
A Christian is expected to act like Abraham. God calls; a Christian gets up and moves without knowing the final destination. Yet, for a Christian, the final destination isn’t a burden because a Christian trusts God. A Christian believes God will take care of him or her.
III. God’s blessing of Abraham’s belief reminds us that the Lord’s legacy of love is felt and experienced by the faithful.
Too many of us have been haunted on occasion by these words sung by Neil Young: “My life is changing in so many ways. I don’t know who to trust anymore.” And there is a deep feeling with us — too often confirmed by the facts of life — that there aren’t that many folks out there who can really be trusted with our hearts and souls and minds and bodies.
When God said to Abraham, “Trust me.” Abraham did, and Abraham was blessed. God took care of Abraham. God took his faith and blessed him. To use the words of Psalm 37: Abraham trusted in the Lord, he delighted in the Lord, and God gave him the desires of his heart. It was just like the Psalmist would sing, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken.” The Bible says, “Abraham believed the Lord and He credited it to him as righteousness.” God only wanted Abraham to affirm, accept and acknowledge His love so that he could live within the full blessings of the Lord’s legacy of love.
The Lord’s legacy is love. It is a love that exceeds our greatest expectations and dreams. It is forever. It can be felt and experienced through faith, here and now. That’s what Abraham did. He lived happily ever after; so will we. (RRK)
3rd Sunday in Lent (C)
March 19, 1995
Suffering, AIDS, and Magic Johnson: Who Sinned?
(Luke 13:1-9)
It was one of the most poignant and powerful news headlines of the year. You don’t have to like basketball to love Magic Johnson. With his talent, his personal magnetism, and his spectacular smile, he is the big brother you wish you had, the guy shooting hoops next door, the role model for a generation of boys.
Then we saw Magic make the announcement: He had tested HIV positive; he had AIDS. The searing news cut through all the sweeping generalizations about safe sex, dirty needles, homosexuality — to touch the nation’s heart; we felt it.
That may have been how it was the day they came to Jesus, newspaper in hand, and asked about the morning headlines. “Jesus, did you hear about the Galileans who were killed while they offered their sacrifices?”
The obscure historical event was all too typical of the struggles for power in the Middle East. Pilate had sent his soldiers into the Temple with their swords hidden beneath their robes. When the Galileans were least expecting it, the soldiers pulled out their weapons and slaughtered them. The older Bible translations read rather indelicately: “… the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”
Another story was in the newspaper’s local section: “Eighteen people died in Siloam when a tower collapsed on them.” The paper carried a picture of grief-stricken family members digging through the rubble in search of their loved ones.
Jesus read the headlines and asked the question all of us are tempted to ask: “Do you think the Galileans who were killed in the Temple were worse sinners than all the other Galileans? Do you suppose that the ones who died in Siloam were worse people than all the other people living in Jerusalem?”
They asked Jesus the same question when they met a man who had been blind from birth: “Who sinned,” they wanted to know, “this man or his parents?”
Sooner or later we all ask it: “Is there a connection between suffering and sin? Why do good people suffer and evil people prosper? Is success a sign of righteousness and suffering a sign of unrighteousness?” For the faithful people in Jesus’ day there was no doubt about it. They were sure of it. Life was a simple ethical equation: “you get what you deserve and you deserve what you get; if something good happens, it is God’s blessing on your good actions; if something bad happens, it is God’s direct punishment for your evil actions.”
There’s still a lot of that kind of folk religion around today. Choose any form of suffering, any tragedy — from car accidents to cancer — and some well-intentioned but biblically illiterate person will say, “I must have done something terrible to deserve this” or, “They are such good people; why did this happen to them?”
Jesus gives a clear, unmistakable, one-word response to that kind of simplistic equation. He says, “No.” To underscore the intensity of it, the English translation reads, “No, indeed!” When will we get it into our heads that God doesn’t go around zapping people with good things or bad things on the basis of their actions? Jesus knew that life is not that simple. It is a complex mixture of cause and effect. There is no guarantee that comfort comes with goodness; there is no promise of exceptions for nice people. Adversity is a part of the risk and reality of human existence; it can happen to the best of us.
There are, sure enough, consequences to our behavior. And we do, sure enough, bring a certain amount of pain upon ourselves. I never know whether to laugh or cry when someone who has smoked all of his life discovers he has cancer and asks why God did this to him. There are consequences to our actions. But there is also innocent suffering which is not necessarily the direct result of sin on the part of the sufferer.
Those Galileans in the Temple didn’t do anything to deserve what happened to them; they just happened to be standing there when the swords started flailing. And those folks in Siloam didn’t do anything to deserve their deaths; they just happened to be standing there when the stones started falling. Neither our innocence nor our guilt will spare us from the adversities of life.
The Christian response to people who experience pain and suffering is not judgment, but compassion. When it comes to people who suffer with AIDS — whether they are as famous as Magic Johnson, or as unknown as a sufferer who sits with you on Sunday morning — the only appropriate Christian response is love and compassion. Issues of right and wrong, morality and immorality, are overruled by suffering; they are superceded by the love of Christ for the person who is dying with a terrible disease. Our only appropriate response is to offer all of the love, compassion, support, and strength that we can.
Jesus asked the question for us: “Do you think these people are worse sinners than everyone else?” And He answered it: “No! They are just like all the rest of us: sinners who stand in the need of the love and grace of God.”
Then He went on with this disturbing warning, “Unless you repent, you shall likewise perish.” What on earth are we going to do with that?
It seems to me that the Church, the Body of Christ in this world, is not just to be concerned about individual or personal suffering. We are also called to see behind and beneath our suffering the larger realities of sin and redemption, and the factors in human relationships and societies which spawn that suffering.
Behind the tragic story of those Galileans who were slaughtered in the Temple is the long, sordid story of a fascination with war and violence, the tragic tendency in the human family to resort to violence in settling differences, the sorry legacy of struggles for political and economic power. Behind the deaths of those eighteen folks in Siloam was, I’ll bet, a corrupt builder who tried to trim the costs and squeeze out a larger profit by using cheap materials or by rushing the construction process. Behind the painful picture of Magic Johnson’s announcement is the larger issue of our society’s abuse and perversion of human sexuality.
We can’t escape; we are all connected in this life. The actions of the many affect the lives of the few. The attitudes, values, and assumptions which are shared by a people or a society affect individuals for good or evil. When those attitudes, values, or assumptions result in pain and suffering, it’s time to read the signs, get the message, and turn in a new direction — or, sooner or later, all of us will suffer for our failure.
And that’s why the Christian community sees the AIDS crisis differently than the rest of our society. The world generally sees AIDS from two perspectives. Some see it as a medical problem, the primary issue being how to stop the virus, find a cure, or discover a vaccine. Others see it primarily as a technological or educational process: how to build a better condom or convince people to use them. But people who are attempting to live out the context of the Gospel see things differently. There is something deeper here. It is not just a medical or technological crisis; this is also a moral crisis. It has to do with the choices we make as individuals and as a society. It grows out of the values, ideals, and basic operating assumptions with which we live.
With all due respect, it’s not enough to say that Magic Johnson is HIV positive because he didn’t practice safe sex. Magic Johnson has AIDS because he bought into promiscuity, the sexual immorality of our society — a society which grins when Wilt Chamberlain says he had sex with 20,000 women. Magic Johnson bought into the values of a society which tells little boys that their manhood is measured by how many women they seduce; he bought into the values of a society which tells little girls that their womanhood is measured by how many men they can turn on. He reflects a society which sees sex as a commodity, something to be used for self-satisfaction, or as a marketing tool to sell everything from cars to beer.
The issue here is not safe sex; the issue is careless, self-centered, commercialized, irresponsible sex, and the gross immorality of a sexually promiscuous society.
That’s not what sex is for. The Bible makes it perfectly clear: human sexuality is part of the image of God carved into our human flesh. Our sexuality is a divine gift intended for joy and fulfillment in a covenant of love and trust. When we abuse or cheapen that gift, we do it to our peril. “Unless you repent,” Jesus said, “unless you change your way of thinking, turn in a new direction, see things from a different perspective, you will all likewise perish.”
The good news is that repentance is always possible. Our hope for the future is not in convincing people to use condoms for sex or clean needles for drugs — as important as these may presently be. Our hope is not in finding a vaccine or medical cure for AIDS — as necessary as these may be. Our hope is in repentance: obtaining that grace of God which enables people to change their minds, to turn in new directions, to see things differently. Our hope is in ordinary folks like us who will show this world what the apostle Paul called “the more excellent way”: the way of self-giving love, the way of the cross.
Do you know what that love might look like in this crisis? It’s the love which wraps its arms around an AIDS victim with all the compassion, comfort, and hope that can be given. It’s the love that sees every human being as a person of infinite worth, too valuable to be used or abused for another person’s pleasure. It’s the love which welcomes every person into the family of God regardless of their weakness or their past.
It’s the love which values human sexuality as a marvelous gift of God, and teaches children to honor and respect their own sexuality and the sexuality of others. It’s the love that teaches youth, in a society based on instant gratification, that some things are worth waiting for; one of these things is the joy of sexual intercourse in the covenant of Christian marriage. It’s the love of Jesus in human relationships which surpasses the cheapened images of love in the world around us. It’s the love which always offers the gift of new life, the promise of forgiveness, the hope of transformation, and the promise of grace to a bruised and broken world.
Jesus asked the question: “Are these folks worse sinners than everyone else?” And then He answered: “No. They are just like all the rest of us: sinners who need God’s grace.” And He called us to repentance. May God help us to choose the way that leads to life. (JAH)
4th Sunday of Lent (C)
March 26, 1995
A New Point of View
(2 Cor. 5:14-21)
Everyone does not share the same point of view. Sometimes that fact is frustrating. Our education, experience, and interests cause us to see things from particular frames of reference. This is not something easy to alter.
Recently I was looking through Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In the first chapter there are three rough sketches. One sketch is a profile of an attractive young woman. Another is of a very large-nosed older woman. Covey said he first saw the pictures in a class at Harvard Business School where one-half the class was shown the first sketch, while the other half was shown the second sketch. The entire class was presented with a third sketch of a woman.
Strangely, the members of the class did not see the same thing. Those who had first seen the sketch of the attractive young woman saw her once again in the third picture. Those students who had started out by looking at the picture of the large-nosed elderly woman saw her image in the third picture. When the professor called on class members to describe what they saw, an argument began to rage. The various students, seeing the final sketch from different frames of reference, found it nearly impossible to make sense of their counterpart’s point of view. In fact, the lines in the third picture had been sketched so it could be viewed in both ways. The third sketch included both the image of the elderly woman and the image of the young woman.
A new point of view is hard-won. But the apostle Paul says that Christians have been given precisely that. “We regard no one from a human point of view,” he says. We once did, but no longer. What is a human point of view? When the people we gravitate toward are the ones who are the most physically attractive, then we see from a human point of view. When we neglect people who don’t amuse us or help us “get ahead,” then we see from a human point of view. When we assume the worst of people who are unlike us, then we see from a human point of view.
But, Paul says, “We no longer regard anyone from a human point of view.” Sounds odd, doesn’t it? After all, what other point of view can we have? I remember a television commercial for dog food. It showed a woman pouring the chunky nuggets into her pet’s dish. She then steps out on a porch and falls her dog. Suddenly — thanks to the wonders of cinematography — the television screen gives us a picture of the world from the pup’s perspective. As seen through the dog’s eyes — down close to the ground — we are given a sense of the animal running, charging up a path, crashing through the weeds, with blades of grass slapping at our field of vision. Finally — with the food dish filling the television screen — we see: Ah! Canine satisfaction!
But, of course, the apostle Paul didn’t have the animal perspective in mind when he said, “We no longer regard anyone from a human point of view.” It was not a perspective lower than ours that he was suggesting, but one much higher: the Divine perspective. We who recognize that, in Christ, God suffered and died for all people, cannot look upon anyone in a demeaning way. Because of the cross and the resurrection, we come to see the high value God places upon us all. We are given God’s point of view.
But if, indeed, we believe that Christ died for all, we know that there are no disposable people. There are only people who are beloved of God, people we ought to treat with dignity and recognize as having amazing worth. If God values these men, women and children enough to come into this world in Jesus Christ and suffer and die for them, we cannot judge their worth by how much they can do for us or by how productive they are in society. God has already set their value. We can see them as God does, or be blind.
Isn’t it true that we often make a few quick observations about certain people, stick a label on them, and put them aside as unworthy of appreciation? The Bible doesn’t tell us that Jesus met a homosexual. The Bible doesn’t tell us that Jesus ever saw a prostitute. Do you think our Lord would have treated them with any less respect than He did others? Can we really believe that He would have shunned them? Jesus was not one to miminize the seriousness of sin but neither did He define people by their sin.
For those of us who are convinced that Christ died and was raised for all of us, the love of Christ controls us — Christ’s love changes everything about how we look upon others and live with them. What we experience is nothing less than “a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” (CMW)
Sermon briefs in this issue are provided by Richard Andersen, Senior Pastor, St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church, San Jose, CA; Donald B. Strode, Professor of NT Interpretation and Homiletics, Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies; Gary L. Carver, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Chattanooga, TN; Jon R. Roebuck, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Gatlinburg, TN; Robert R. Kopp, Pastor, Logans Ferry Presbyterian Church, New Kensington, PA; James A. Harnish, Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist Church, Tampa, FL; Craig M. Watts, Pastor, First Christian Church, Louisville, KY; and Michael Duduit, Editor, Preaching.

Share This On:

2nd Sunday of Advent (B)
December 5, 1993
To Prepare the Way
(Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8)
Prepare ye the way of the Lord! Those words have more than “a familiar ring”; they strike a resonant chord of hope and freedom. We hear these words proclaimed every Advent. In Isaiah, they are a reminder that God is going to do a new thing. The Jews have been released in Babylon by Cyrus, and God is the ultimate cause of this renewal. In the New Testament, God is bringing in the day of Salvation for all people in his beloved Son. John the Baptist proclaims this coming, calls for repentance, and ultimately points to the Lamb of God (Jesus) who takes away the sin of the world.
How do we hear those words? Many of us can’t imagine going through the vicissitudes of life without the presence of the Lord in our lives. So we want for our children a vital growing faith, not “a form of religion denying the power thereof,” not a socially acceptable routine but a life-changing relationship. We desire for our children, as they become youth, that they will “know the Lord.” Our worst fear is that those we love will try to pack into the God-shaped vacuum in their lives experiences, relationships, self-made gods that will not fill the void. How then do we prepare the way of faith for our children?
First, we must hear the word of the Lord: It is God who brings salvation, not we ourselves. The captives of Babylon, those caught in the quagmire of their sins at the time of Jesus’ coming, were saved as they trusted in the Lord. Freedom came not through Cyrus or John, but almighty God. Salvation is a gift; faith is a response. We cannot force faith on our children. Read Isaiah again; God lifts up the valleys of our lives, makes straight the pathways. You do not provide the way of the Lord for yourself or your children by pumping up the valley and bulldozing the rough places.
John the Baptist points to the Christ who is the love of God in the flesh; and yet John also tells of the need for repentance, warns of the rigors and demands of a new way of life. For John, preparing the way of the Lord includes both. This indeed echoes our passage from Second Isaiah. For there the Lord is a shepherd; loving, tender, gathering His flock in His arms, but the shepherd is also one who leads, warns, admonishes those in His charge.
How are we to prepare the way of the Lord? Will our children have faith? As parents, friends, the church, we must bring these children up in the loving nurture and admonition of the Lord. We begin with love because this is where God begins with us. We point with our lives, not just our fingers, to the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. That is not superficial, but sacrificial love. The “King of Love our Shepherd Is.” Because we have learned the truth of the cross, God’s costly acceptance of us enables us to love, accept our children before there is any hint of earning love. In this, we prepare the way.
It has been said that the best thing you can do for your children is to love your spouse. Likewise, if we prepare the way of the Lord for our children, the best thing we can do is love God with all our heart, mind and body. Yes, our bodies are involved. You remember the bumper sticker which asked, “Have you hugged your kid today?” Not bad advice! There are all kinds of hugs: physical, verbal, spiritual. Without these hugs, something vital in us withers and dies. Let me push that thought a bit further: “Have you hugged someone else’s kid today?”
I did not grow up in the perfect church (nor have I found it since), yet there was a real sense in that church of being a family. Years later, when I drifted from the church, the one thing I could not deny was the genuine love that went beyond race and kin. This was the love that would not let me go. In that atmosphere, you knew you had more than one set of parents. Sunday School teachers had their faults, but they did not have to be coerced into teaching. Not one class lacked love. Church family came to my ball games, provided Christian books my family could not afford, stood by me when I was in trouble, and showed Christ’s love in a hundred other ways.
We are to prepare the way of the Lord not only in love but in admonition. Admonition is a word taken from the French: “to remind or warn.” It means, “to reprove gently but seriously.” It connotes for me such things as instructions, guidelines, discipline, and, when administered with a loving spirit, you have a powerful combination for good. A boy was sent to his room until his behavior improved. After a while, he emerged and told his mother he had thought it over and had prayed about it. “That’s wonderful,” said the mother. “If you ask God, He will help you be good.” The boy replied, “Oh, I didn’t ask God to help me be good. I asked Him to help you put up with me.” It’s very possible that the answer to prayer is both the courage to discipline and patience. One is not a substitute for the other.
As a matter of fact, if I was going to suggest another bumper sticker, it might be, “Have you disciplined your child today?” The most loving thing we can do is to be clear about living life within “a frame.” There are boundaries of responsible conduct and it is an act of love to bring up a child in the “admonition of the Lord.” Again, let me push past the comfortable zone. “Have you admonished someone else’s child?” We have taken the “mind your own business” credo so far that children don’t feel they are a part of a larger family.
A few years ago, I received a letter from a man who had worked with me when I was in fifth grade and new to church. It was a warm, gracious letter but he reminded me that when we first met, I was the most contrary young person when it came to the church. It’s true, but he showed me tough love. He wouldn’t give up. I remember on one Easter morning, I let it be known that I didn’t want anything to do with church and said some things that broke my mother’s heart. A woman in the church, a Sunday School teacher, took me aside and let me know in ways I will never forget that she loved me and I had better shape up. Love and admonition.
Again, we cannot force faith but all of us can prepare the way of the Lord. When I was a college chaplain, a lovely, bright Oriental student came to me and said, “How do I become a Christian?” I was only one small link in the chain. She told me of a fellow worker who loved Christ and of a grandfather in China who prayed every day for her. They had prepared the way. If that’s true in conversion, it’s also true in Christian growth. Every person in this church who stands up and takes a vow at baptism has responsibility to bring up a child in the love and admonition of the Lord. A juvenile court judge said that the actual difference in children who do not run amok is love, affection, respect and discipline in the family. We are the larger family. It is a part of our responsibility as members of the body of Christ.
A real sign of maturity is being able to plant trees under whose shade we will never sit. A sign of Christian maturity is being a part of the Sunday School, the youth program, and ministry to children even when your child will not benefit.
When I was in Tennessee, we had a bad drought and one minister said the water shortage was so bad that the Baptists began sprinkling, the Methodists used only damp wash cloths, and the Presbyterians gave out rain checks. There are no rain checks when it comes to our responsibility to those who are baptized. Will you bring them up in the love and admonition of the Lord? (GDS)
3rd Sunday of Advent (B)
December 12, 1993
Giving Thanks
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-24)
We are in a season with a unique emphasis on thankfulness. Just a couple of weeks ago we celebrated Thanksgiving day, and as we move through this season of Advent and toward Christmas, we are focused on gifts — God’s gift to us in Christ and our gifts to one another — and thankfulness is a part of the season.
Paul is offering the Thessalonian Christians a guide to victorious Christian living (vv. 16-18), and at the heart of it all is a spirit of thankfulness. A spirit of thankfulness is part of God’s will for us in order that we can enjoy abundant lives.
I. When Should We Give Thanks?
This season of the year lends itself to thankfulness, as we give and receive gifts. Yet Paul reminds us that thanksgiving is not limited to a day or a season of the year. We are to give thanks “in everything” — in all times and all circumstances.
When all goes well, it is easy to give thanks. Yet when things are going badly — when money is tight, when family circumstances are difficult, when the pressures build — that is also a time to give thanks, because it reflects our determination that God is still faithful and still at work in our lives. Even when life is difficult, we continue to trust and serve, and leave the outcome to God.
In all times and all circumstances, we give thanks.
II. How Should We Give Thanks?
We can offer thanks to God in many ways.
1. Through Praise. Think about your prayers of the past few days; what do they consist of? Most of our prayers consist of asking God for things. There’s nothing wrong with that, but God also desires our worship and praise — thanksgiving!
There is something about praise that lifts us up and makes us stronger; praise helps give our Christian lives balance and fullness. Welton Gaddy tells the story of the young boy who was out playing with his friends one afternoon, when his mother called him to come in and get ready for choir practice. He immediately stopped his play and started running for the house.
“Where are you going?” one of the friends asked, to which the boy replied, “I’m going to praise the Lord!” Then, almost as a second thought, he added, “Haven’t you ever praised the Lord? It’s fun!” (The Gift of Worship, p. 105).
Praise is fun, for it is one of the keys that unlocks the abundant life.
2. Through Service. A physician seeking to determine the condition of a heart will listen to the words in the patient’s mouth but even more to the pulse in the patient’s arm. Likewise, people will judge our thankfulness to God by our lives even more than by our words.
What we are is reflected in what we do. If we are really thankful to God for all the grace and love He has given to us, we will demonstrate that thankfulness through concrete actions of service. Real thankfulness will reach out and touch lives.
There is a legend of a wealthy man who was terribly sick, and upon his recovery he was so filled with gratitude to God that he prayed and asked God to show him some way to repay God’s goodness. Perhaps he could build a great cathedral that would stretch toward heaven? According to the legend, an angel appeared to the man and said, “You cannot send your money to heaven, but you can show your gratitude.” The angel led the man to a small, ramshackle house where a family lived in poverty; the father was ill and without work, the mother worried about what they would soon do for food, the children had only a few pathetic clothes to wear. The angel said to the man, “Here is an altar for your sacrifice.”
True gratitude results in praise, and authentic praise is reflected with service toward God and His other children. Are you thankful enough to let God use you? (JMD)
4th Sunday of Advent (B)
December 19, 1993
The Lord is With You
(Luke 1:26-38)
What does God look like? Robert Coles of Harvard University asked some fourth graders to draw a picture of God and one child had taken great care to draw only the face of God. When Coles suggested she might want to add a body, she said, “No.” Then a pause: “I don’t think of God, except for His face: I mean, when I picture Him, it’s His face.”
In that same classroom another girl explained her considerable hesitation on giving God a body: “When God came here, He looked like a man; He was Jesus. But then He went back to being God, and I don’t know what He looks like now, but you have to have a face” (The Spiritual Life of Children, by Robert Cole).
For almost two thousand years the Christian faith has been telling the good news that if you want to see the face of God you can look into the face of Jesus. That has been the good news preached to us and celebrated by us ever since the first Christmas. God has come to earth in flesh and blood to show Himself to us precisely because we children could not see Him clearly. He had to come to us so that we might find Him.
The story of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary is told to answer the question that arises out of the affirmation which we have now come to take for granted. We claim Jesus to be the Son of God, but as the early Church was preaching and teaching the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and offering Jesus to the world as the Son of God, there were always these questions: But how did God come to earth in Jesus? When did Jesus become the Son of God? How was Jesus made and yet not begotten?
The story of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary identifies Jesus as the Davidic Messiah and the Son of God — created as the Son of God from the very beginning, created by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. It declares that Jesus comes from humanity and it affirms that Jesus comes from God. It draws a picture of Jesus.
Jesus’ birth is announced to be a new creative act of the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit broods over Mary, overshadows her, hovers over her, like the Holy Spirit hovered over the watery deep in Creation, there at the beginning where the power of God spoke and creation came into being. Here the Holy Spirit acts in the midst of Creation to bring into being a whole new act of creation; here the creation of life is done again as it had been done at the beginning, so that creation might have the chance to begin again.
As ever again, we see that marvelous way in which even in revolution God is conservative. God being able to make that which is new out of that which has been. God being able to use what has been promised in the past to make that which has been promised for the future. Just as the prophets who are to renovate and redeem Israel are always taken from the order of the old priesthood, so the Christ who is to redeem the human race is not created out of nothing, but is “born of a woman.” God comes into the human condition and by the creative powers of His Spirit renews creation by a new act of creation. Jesus becomes at once the Son of God and the promised Messiah from the house of David.
It was the living and dying and loving and living after the crucifixion that identified Jesus to His disciples as the Son of God, but in this memory of Mary, told to the early church, Luke affirms that Jesus was this new act of creation from the beginning. Jesus is the Son of God by a new act of creation of God, yet Jesus is also one with humanity by His birth through Mary.
We rejoice that, in this child who is awaited, we are awaiting one who reveals to us the nature and personality of God and shows us the power and the goodness of our human nature. He bears witness to the power with which God cares for creation and cares for us. By the living and moving and active Holy Spirit upon the face of creation, God can take our stuff and transform it. We can take our past and redeem it. He can take our limitations and overcome them. He can take our fears and use them to empower us. He can, by the Holy Spirit, bring life Where there has only been death. We have only to be ready and receptive for the acting of God’s power.
For Mary, there was no shrinking on her part from all that the fulfillment of this promise possibly might involve — suspicion, shame and reproach, suffering and even death. Those who believe most firmly in the promises of God submit most patiently and faithfully to His Providence, for they see the glory which will surely succeed the gloom. (RB)
1st Sunday after Christmas (B)
December 26, 1993
One Glimpse
(Luke 2:22-40)
In the hallway of the Christian education wing of another church there is a picture mounted above a brass plaque. The picture is of an elderly gentleman in a suit bending ever so graciously to shake the hand of a small, bright-eyed young child coming through the door on her way to her Sunday School class. The picture was mounted on the wall because, for as long as most of the members of that church can remember, Fred Harding was at that door every Sunday morning to greet the young people as they came in. He was a very warm and kind man, always so delighted to see each child, and the impact he had upon the children was such that when his health and age made it no longer possible for him to be at his post, one of the children asked her mother, “Why wasn’t God at the door this morning?”
Harding was the kind of Christian you would like to have your child grow up to become. Will Willimon, now dean of the chapel at Duke Divinity School, tells of a church that decided what they hoped their confirmation class would be able to do to enable all of their young people to become like three or four of the saints of their congregation; if they could just pair their young people with “so and so” and let some of his or her faith and joy rub off onto the young people, the confirmation class would be a great success.
Simeon and Anna would have been two of the people the leaders of the Temple would have picked if they had been using that method of confirmation. They are described as two of the best people that Judaism had to offer. We as Christians are often in the habit of seeing Judaism as only Pharisees and Scribes, as legalists and arrogant, as elitists and condescending; but Simeon and Anna are lifted up as the best that might be brought forth from Torah and Temple.
Simeon is called righteous and devout, a man watching and waiting in faithfulness and hope for the consolation of Israel, for the act of God which would fulfill all the promises of God to the Children of Israel. He is one of the watchmen waiting on the coming of the dawn. Anna is an aged prophetess who has devoted her long years of widowhood to worship and praying, wishing and hoping, longing and waiting for the coming of the salvation of God’s people. Simeon and Anna had none of the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. They had none of that “arrogance of righteousness” which is often so odious. They had met sorrow and not become bitter. They had experienced great disappointments but were still hopeful. They were the fullest and best expression of Judaism.
Simeon and Anna exemplified what Mary and Joseph wanted Jesus to become so they brought Him to the Temple and placed Him under the traditions and the rituals of their faith. Mary and Joseph had come to the Temple to fulfill all the requirements of the Law so that Jesus might develop as Simeon and Anna had developed. Mary and Joseph had come to the Temple to participate in the three religious rites required by the birth of the first son. One ritual was circumcision, which is the mark of the covenant and the time at which the male receives his name, his identity. Another ritual was the “Redemption of the First Born,” which recognizes that the first-fruits of all creation are God’s and should be sacrificed to God, but the Covenant has made possible the sacrifice of animals for the sacrifice of children. The third ritual was the Purification of the Mother after childbirth.
Mary and Joseph came to the Temple according to the Law, for like all parents they wanted the best for their Son, and they knew that Jesus could not grow, become strong, filled with wisdom, and have favor with God if He were not placed in the protection and power of God from the beginning.
Luke is very careful to make sure that as we read this story we understand that Jesus, Mary and Joseph had fulfilled all that was required of the family by the old traditions; that Jesus comes as an act of God not to destroy the old but to fulfill it and overflow it. Mike and the Mechanics suggest, “I know that I’m a prisoner to all my father held so dear,” but Luke knows that revelation of the new is only possible after we have become masters of the old.
There is no freedom to be creative until you have mastered all that has been. There is no new great music until you have mastered the rules of the old music. There is no great impressionistic art until you have learned to paint the basics. There is no flying Michael Jordan until you have learned to dribble, to pass, to shoot the way the coach says.
That is the purpose of the rituals, the practices, the disciplines of faith: to prepare us for the fulfillment of God’s grace in us. By such discipline we may become like Simeon and Anna: we might become full of righteousness, devotion, hope and watching.
I can hear the questions forming in your minds: why go through all that? What is the purpose of all that discipline and devotion? And who wants to be like Simeon and Anna? The answer is because that is the only way we will be prepared to recognize the Grace, Mercy and Power of God in our own lives. It is only when we have done all we can do to be good — and recognize we cannot make ourselves good — that we will be able to recognize Goodness when it comes and is given to us. Only when we have been watching and waiting for the consolation of Israel will we be able to recognize the Baby when He comes — there were many in the Temple that morning who saw the Baby and did not go forth rejoicing.
God’s love is always incarnated in the midst of our flesh and blood. To see it and to recognize it — to get a glimpse of it — we need a longing, a hoping, and an understanding of it; this comes to us through fulfilling the practices and disciplines of faith. Surely it is the gifts that Simeon has been given by years of waiting and watching which permits him to recognize that what he has been hoping for as the Salvation of Israel is in fact the one who has been prepared in the presence of all peoples, the one who comes as a revelation to the Gentiles. To have a glimpse of the Grace of God is to recognize that there is no kingdom of God for us if it is not a place where all others are included. Israel’s salvation is a gift to the Gentiles.
Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the Temple to fulfill all that is required by the Law so that Jesus might be brought up to be like Simeon and Anna, ready and eager for the coming of the salvation of Israel, because only by such longing, praying and hoping are we prepared to get a glimpse of the grace of God. How else but by the systematic reading of the Bible in prison did Dietrich Bonhoeffer prepare himself to discover that God’s love and grace is manifested most clearly in the midst of suffering and pain? How else did Bonhoeffer get a glimpse of God’s love, not as distant and remote, high and lifted up, but near, sharing, participating in each person’s suffering? Bonhoeffer sees that our discipleship may consist of our going and sharing God’s suffering as He shares ours. How else but by such waiting, practicing, praying and hoping can we get a glimpse of the grace and mercy of God in the midst of misery? How else would we be prepared to discover in the Cross of Christ a vision of God’s love and power?
We are left with one more question: if it is that much trouble, why do I even care if I get a glimpse of God’s grace and goodness? Because it is the only thing that will permit us to live and die in peace. All Simeon and Anna get is one small look at a baby, and they are like the watchmen who have seen the crack of dawn. They are dismissed because their jobs have been done. They feel the joy and contentment of life well lived. “Let now thy servant depart in peace.”
We have been made so that we are hungry and thirsting after the goodness of God, and nothing we ever achieve will bring us rest, satisfaction, and contentment of soul except that glimpse of the power and love of God in our lives. Moses does not get to the promised land, but he gets a glimpse of the back side of God’s goodness and a mountaintop sighting of the land, and he departs in peace. Job gets none of his questions answered but he says, “I had heard of Thee by word of mouth, but now I see Thee face to face, and it is enough.” Paul gets a glimpse of the power and grace of God and says, “I know how to be abased and to abound, but I know that the grace of God is sufficient.”
We prepare ourselves by the fulfillment of faithful discipleship and we discipline ourselves by the rituals, rules, traditions of our faith, so that we might be prepared to recognize and rejoice, to see and celebrate a glimpse of God’s mercy and power in our midst, in our own lives. It is that one glimpse of God’s goodness, one glimpse of God’s graciousness, that enables us to live with less anxiety and worry. It permits us to be more generous, and thus to receive more joy in giving; one glimpse and we are more confident of God and less concerned about what kind of resources we have, more grateful for what we have. One glimpse and Simeon burst forth in a song that has vibrated down through the ages, Nunc Dimittis — “Lord, let now thy servant depart in peace.”
Luke suggests Jesus was brought to fulfill all that the Law requires because God’s new revelation of Himself to us does not contradict or violate His old manifestations of grace to others. And we are invited to follow, in discipleship, all of the practices and traditions of the past so that we might be prepared to catch a glimpse of God’s love in our own lives — for by that one glimpse we too will discover the peace that passes all understanding. God’s grace gives rest to the weary, and in the face of death, we may depart in peace. (RB)
Epiphany (B)
January 2, 1994
How to Become Wise
(Matthew 2:1-12)
I have a friend who says he enjoys listening to smart people say stupid things. Though my mommy always told me not to say something someone said is stupid, some things some people say are stupid.
There was the staff meeting in which one of our pastors and the choirmaster really got into it about which members of the staff should get which parking spots. Onward Christian Soldiers! It’s like the old saying, “If you want to kill a good idea, give it to a committee.”
I serve as the secretary for our local clergy council. Every meeting some guy spends our limited time together to correct spelling, punctuation, and attendance as if the Kingdom of God rises or falls on such stuff. Thank God there are no serious problems for the clergy to consider!
Smart people can say and do some pretty stupid things. Wisdom doesn’t come from the classroom. We know lots of stupid smart guys. Or as I like to tell nervous students, “Look at the graduates! If they could do it, so can you!” Wisdom has nothing to do with picking up a diploma. Wisdom begins on our knees.
Take a look at the three gift-bearing guys who showed up at the manger. Traditionally, we’ve called them wise men. They became wise, but they didn’t start out that way. They were stupid smart guys until they stopped looking up at the stars and planets and started getting down on their knees.
Matthew called them magi. That means they were astrologers. We think of them singing on their way to Bethlehem, “We Three Kings of Orient are …” More likely they were singing, “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” They were smart guys who believed some pretty stupid things. They believed a person’s character and destiny are determined by the position of the stars and planets at the time of birth. Astrologers like the magi take such information and construct a horoscope — a chart pretending to reveal a person’s fate. The claim of astrology is that character and destiny are determined by the movement of the stars and planets. Talk about stupidity! Astrologers believe we are slaves to the stars. They believe our lives are predestined by those little lights in the sky. That’s as stupid as believing our relatives are tadpoles or the earth’s order and complexity just happened by chance. But, then again, some smart people believe stupid stuff.
So the magi weren’t so wise at first. Of course, it’s no sin to be stupid. But it is a sin not to follow God’s saving light in Jesus.
The magi started becoming wise when they saw God’s light. What made that star placed in the sky by God two thousand years ago so special and different from all of the others was that it directed them to the One through whom all destinies are determined.
When they “saw the child,” wrote Matthew, “they knelt down and worshiped Him.” That was when they became wise men.
The gifts were good: gold for a king, the sweet perfume frankincense for a priest, and myrrh (a substance used to embalm the dead) to point to the saving sacrifice of Jesus which would come upon the cross as the cost of canceling the debt of our sin. The gifts were good; they proved the magi were smart. But when they got down on their knees and worshiped Jesus as Lord and Savior, it proved they had become wise. Or as one hymn puts it, “Accept the gifts we offer for all Your love imparts, and what You most desire, our humble, thankful hearts.”
Henry Van Dyke’s The Story of the Other Wise Man comes to mind. Though it is not biblical, it tells the story of a heart given to God in worship. It’s about one wise man who saw the star over Bethlehem with the other three, set out to follow its leading to the Messiah, but was sidetracked along the way by people in pain who needed his help. He never got to see the baby in a manger.
Thirty-three years after the baby’s birth, the other wise man went to Jerusalem in a last-ditch attempt to see his Lord. It was during Passover. A strange commotion filled the air. When he asked what was going on, a shocked Parthian Jew asked, “Have you not heard what has happened? Two famous robbers are to be crucified, and with them another, called Jesus of Nazareth, a man who has done many wonderful works among the people, so that they love Him greatly. But the priests and elders have said that He must die, because He gave Himself out to be the Son of God. And Pilate has sent Him to the cross because He said that He was the ‘King of the Jews’.”
The story goes on. “How strangely those familiar words fell upon the tired heart of Artaban! They had led him for a lifetime over land and sea. And now they came to him darkly and mysteriously like a message of despair. The King had arisen, but He had been denied and cast out. He was about to perish. Perhaps He was already dying. Could it be the same one who had been born in Bethlehem thirty-three years ago, at whose birth the star had appeared in heaven, and of whose coming the prophets had spoken? … So the old man followed the multitude with slow and painful steps toward the Damascus gate of the city. Just beyond the entrance of the guard house a troop of Macedonian soldiers came down the street, dragging a young girl with torn dress and dishevelled hair. As the Magian paused to look at her with compassion, she broke suddenly from the hands of her tormentors and threw herself at his feet, clasping him around the knees … ‘Have pity on me,’ she said, ‘and save me, for the sake of the God of purity! … I’m seized for … debts to be sold as a slave. Save me from worse than death! … He took the pearl from his bosom. Never had it seemed so luminous, so radiant, so full of tender, living lustre. He laid it in the hand of the slave, ‘This is thy ransom, daughter! It is the last of my treasures which I kept for the King’.”
“What had he to fear? What had he to live for? He had given away the last remnant of his tribute for the King. He had parted with the last hope of finding Him. The quest was over, and it had failed. But even in that thought, accepted and embraced, there was peace. It was not resignation. It was not submission. It was something more profound and searching. He knew that all was well, because he had done the best that he could, from day to day. He had been true to the light that had been given to him. He had looked for more. And if he had not found it, if a failure was all that came out of his life, doubtless that was the best that was possible. He had not seen the revelation of ‘life everlasting, incorruptible and immortal.’ But he knew that even if he could live his earthly life over again, it could not be otherwise than it had been.”
“A heavy tile, shaken from the roof, fell and struck the old man on the temple. He lie breathless and pale, with his gray head resting on the young girl’s shoulder, and the blood trickling from the wound. As she bent over him, fearing that he was dead, there came a voice through the twilight, very small and still, like music sounding from a distance, in which the notes are clear but the words are lost. The girl turned to see if someone had spoken from the window above them, but she saw no one. Then the old man’s lips began to move, as if in answer, and she heard him say in the Parthian tongue: ‘Not so, my Lord: for when saw I Thee an hungered and fed Thee? Or thirsty, and gave Thee drink? When saw I Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? Or naked, and clothed Thee? Three-and-thirty years have I looked for Thee; but I have never seen Thy face, nor ministered to Thee, my King.’ He ceased, and the sweet voice came again. And again the maid heard it, very faint and far away. But now it seemed as though she understood the words: ‘Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.’ A calm radiance of wonder and joy lighted the pale face of Artaban like the first ray of dawn on a snowy mountainpeak. One long, last breath of relief exhaled gently from his lips. His journey was ended. His treasures were accepted. The other wise man had found the King.”
Do you want to become wise? All you have to do is get on your knees. (RRK)
Baptism of the Lord (B)
January 9, 1994
Something Out of Nothing
(Genesis 1:1-5)
Have you ever experienced a traumatic situation? Like the death of a spouse or a child or a best friend? Like losing your job? Like coming home to an empty house and a note that reads, “I’ve left you.” Like living with an alcoholic. Like getting drunk at a party and losing your Christian witness. Like giving in to your boyfriend only to have him dump you on Monday morning.
Remember a traumatic experience from your life. Get in touch with those feelings again. How did you feel? Lost in darkness. Confused. Empty inside. Chaotic. Alone. Numb.
Your situation is like that in which God began to create. There was no form or substance, only a void — a deep, dark hole of nothingness. Out of this nothingness, God created something, all of life. Out of your nothingness, out of your traumatic life experiences, God can create something in your life. Here’s how.
The Scriptures tell us God creates by moving. “… and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (v. 2). Yet we’re so caught up in our ways of doing life that we have very little time for experiencing God’s moving. Our own moving dominates our thoughts, our feelings, our spirits. We’re consumed by ourselves to such an extent that we’re unaware of the life-changing, priority-rearranging possibilities God creates by moving. We must be in control. We must do the moving. God is left out.
However, notice that creation didn’t occur until God moved. Your re-creation can’t occur unless you allow God to move in you. If you want something to be created from your nothingness, you must allow God to move in your traumatic experience. You must give up control of your life to the Master Controller. You must open yourself to God, giving Him all your pain and hurt, and allow the Redeemer to transform your pain into Kingdom gain.
God creates by moving. You must give God the room to move in your heart, your mind, and your soul. If something is to come from your nothingness, God is the only one who can make it happen. God creates by moving.
God also creates by speaking. “And God said …” and “God called” (vv. 3, 5). God is so powerful that He has but to speak and creation occurs.
When you’re caught in the sticky web of a crisis, when it seems that nothingness is smothering the life out of you, don’t you pray for a word, just a word from God? “He speaks, and the sound of His voice, Is so sweet the birds hush their singing.” That’s what you want to hear! A word from God which will make it all better and remind you that God is still in charge.
God creates by speaking. The power of God’s words is stronger than anything you could ever dream of. God can create something out of your nothingness just by speaking, if you’ll let Him.
Not only does God create by moving and by speaking, God creates by separating. “And God separated the light from the darkness” (v. 4). When we wander in our nothingness, darkness settles down around us so thickly that we can’t see out. We don’t want to see in. We’re immersed in the chaotic, confusing emptiness of living without God. We follow circles of conflicting paths, unsure of which direction we need to travel. God cannot be seen.
Before she understood the word “dark,” my daughter would say to me in the darkness of her room at night, “Daddy, I can’t see in front of my face.” “That’s OK,” I usually replied, “Daddy’s here with you.” I was the light in the midst of her darkness.
So it is with us when we can’t see in front of our faces. We need someone to separate the darkness and give us light. God is the giver of light. It’s God you need to separate your darkness and give you light. It’s in God’s light that we find nourishment for our souls. Just as plants require sunlight to grow, you and I need God’s Sonlight to penetrate our hearts and into the roots of our souls so that we no longer have to dwell in darkness and despair. Out of the nothingness of our darkness, God brings divine light.
The Light of the world has come to crowd out our darkness. God creates by separating the darkness and all that accompanies it — the hatred, prejudice, conflict, pride, and greed — from the light and its love, openness, peace, humility, and unselfishness. Light brings us the very presence of God. As John wrote in his gospel, “In him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:4-5). And as John wrote of his Revelation: “And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light.” Created light is a reflection of the eternal light of God’s own person.
Just as my daughter needed the assurance of my presence in the darkness, so you and I need the assurance of God’s presence in the dark times of our lives. What traumatic experience have you been forced to live in? What experience are you living in now?
God can be a part of your life right now, if you’ll let Him. Can you feel God moving within you? Can you hear God speaking? Can you sense God separating your darkness from His light? Let God create within you something out of your nothingness. Let God move you. Let God speak to you. Let God separate your darkness by accepting the light of the world, Jesus Christ, into your life right now. Recommit your life to creative, godly living right now. Join this family of believers which is seeking to be re-created by God daily.
Out of your nothingness, God can create something, all you’ll ever need, all you’ll ever want. (LJF)
2nd Sunday after Epiphany (B)
January 16, 1994
Inquiring Minds Want to Know
(John 1:43-51)
“Is any good thing able to come out of Nazareth?” This is Nathanael’s burning question which he puts to Philip. Philip, himself just called to follow Christ, finds Nathanael as he embarks on his journey with Jesus. Philip is ecstatic: “We’ve found Him! We’ve found the one about whom Moses writes in the Law! The one whom the prophets foretold: Jesus, the son of Joseph — the one from Nazareth!” Nathanael, who may have been resting in the cool shade under the fig tree, asks Philip rather pointedly: “Is any good thing able to come out of Nazareth?”
Nathanael’s reply to Philip’s joy is a dampening “So what?” Nathanael is not unlike Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s mighty novel Moby Dick. In one scene, Ahab makes his way to the carpenter’s area aboard the Pequod. As he advances toward the carpenter, Ahab eyes the vise on the carpenter’s workbench. “This is a cogent vise thou hast here, carpenter; let me feel its grip once. So, so; it does pinch some.”
“Oh, sir, it will break bones — beware, beware!” cries the carpenter.
“No fear,” says Ahab, “I like a good grip; I like to feel something in this slippery world that can hold” (Moby Dick, p. 30).
Nathanael comes across as one who wants something solid in life, something that he can hold onto, something that can buoy him up in the tempests of life. We all need something in life that we can hold onto because the demands of life — schoolwork, our jobs and careers, our homelife, being responsible human beings — often leave us frustrated and confused, or (and this is even worse!) listless and bored. “If I only had a clue,” we say. “If only there was some certainty in my life right now, maybe I could be inspired to find the answers that I seek, find happiness and meaning in my life.” From our yearnings, we could grow into an awareness of fulfillment in our lives.
In a thought-provoking little book, Bold Expectations of the Gospel, Donald Shelby writes of a public school teacher who sent him a letter about her yearnings. Here is what she wrote:
I yearn for answers, and the questions keep coming. All the while my faith grows until it wells up inside of me. I want to share what God is working in my heart, but it is frustrating to meet so few curious Christians along the way. For me, faith is so exciting that I can’t wait to explore further. We do not have to resist intelligence, questions, and intelligent questioning to be a Christian, do we?
By no means! We are commanded in the Scriptures to love God with all our mind, are we not? This woman found faith to be exciting, as Philip was finding out, and as Nathanael was soon to discover. Faith, by its very nature, requires that we ask questions in order to keep faith throbbing with the pulse of life. Faith is exciting such that it demands us to explore its nooks and crannies, to unearth its treasures, and reflect upon its place and purpose in our lives.
Think of it! Having marveled at the moon and stars in the night sky and the wonders of the world in which we live, a psalmist chanted a question in the eighth Psalm:
When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
The moon and the stars which thou hast established;
What is man that thou art mindful of him,
And the son of man that thou dost care for him?
We see the wonders of our world and marvel at them and begin to ask questions: Who are we? Where are we going? What are we supposed to do with our lives?
When you and I ask questions, we expose our partial understanding and our limited expectations of things in this world. Nathanael partly understood the promise that the Messiah would come as Moses and the prophets foretold; however, his expectations are noticeably limited when he hears from Philip that the promised one has come from that insignificant little farming village called Nazareth.
When we ask questions, we challenge old, worn-out ideas that no longer fit our life situation, and we open ourselves to new possibilities. Jesus knew this well, and He always invited inquiries of those who came to Him. We read in the Gospels that Jesus constantly reminded those who assumed they had all the answers and were resistant to new understanding, saying such things as, “No one puts new wine in old wineskins,” and “God is not God of the dead; God is God of the living.”
Jesus knew that learning was an exciting venture and that a growing faith was as exhilarating and full of life as a static faith was moribund. To address the unknown, to court the unfamiliar, to boldly go where no one has gone before, to pitch our tents on what one Puritan writer called “the stormy north side of Jesus Christ” is to begin to understand the “hunger and thirsting” which Jesus called “blessed.”
There is a story told by a pastor in East Germany. A young man in his parish was seized by communist party leaders and never returned. Not long after, another young man, well-known as a hardened leader in the communist-organized youth movement, began attending parish meetings and worship services at that church. The pastor’s suspicions were aroused, and finally he asked the visitor why he was coming. The man replied, “You know the fellow from your church who was seized and taken away?”
“Of course,” said the pastor. “I knew him well, but we have not heard from him since.”
“Well,” said the visitor, “I saw him when he was being harassed and tortured. Not only did he refuse to betray his friends, but through it all he never showed any bitterness toward his tormentors. Even in the hour of death, there was no anger toward those who were about to kill him. Instead, he spoke of Jesus Christ, forgiveness, and God’s love.”
He concluded, “And when I saw him die, I knew I must come, in spite of what it will cost me, to learn of his Christ and the love for our enemies that strengthened him in his last hours.”
Having asked how Jesus knew who he was, Nathanael becomes aware of the reality of the Word of God made flesh, this person to whom he is speaking. Nathanael’s response to Jesus is really quite beautiful: “You are the Son of God,” he exclaims, “you are the King of Israel!” But Jesus would not have us remain at this point of pondering the wonderful and wrestling with questions of faith in our minds.
No, we must occasionally spring into action and put our faith to work — choosing and living out our acts with intention and conviction. During the days when Hitler’s rise to power became an increasing threat to the churches in Germany, a group of concerned Christians prayerfully considered the act of maintaining at all cost their faith as they had practiced it for so long. Because of their faith, they questioned the validity of a dictator’s right to control the church through the state. They put their faith to work, acting with the intent to establish a church that would persevere in its refusal to buy into the ideology that Hitler was the “New Messiah.” Out of this persevering faith came the Barmen Declaration, one of the most important religious documents of our century.
We cannot simply ponder the ins and outs of ethical decisions and not ever make one in the heat and dust of the moral arena. Questions have to be asked, and decisions have to be made and acted upon. We have to move out and serve.
“Is any good thing able to come out of Nazareth?” beckons the question. “Come and see,” is the extended invitation. If we go and see, we discover that questions are important and need to be asked in order to become expectant and aware, humble and reachable. And we learn that becoming expectant, aware, humble, and reachable enables us to put our faith to work, moving out into the world and serving God in it.
Inquire into your faith. We may experience it in the same manner as the author Henry James was brought face to face with “a jewel brilliant and hard … (twinkling and trembling) and melted together; and what seemed all surface one moment seemed all depth the next.” Ponder it, and act in it, for in that way we can grow into awareness of God’s promise of fulfillment in our lives. (EK)
3rd Sunday of Epiphany (B)
January 23, 1994
The Three R’s of Repentance
(Jonah 3:1-10)
John Killinger tells the story of playing golf with a friend. They were having a really terrible round. The friend had sliced his tee shot, topped the next one, hit the following one into the sand trap, spent two shots getting onto the green, and then three-putted. A terrible day for golf. But it was a good day for theology.
“You know how to tell a really good golfer?” asked the friend. “The really good golfer is the one who can recover from a bad shot. Say he hits the ball into the sand trap twenty feet from the green. He doesn’t throw down his club or mentally give up the game. He just hunkers down, concentrates, and hits it out of there, right up to the pin!”
Apply that to your life. We all make some bad shots in life; in fact, some lousy shots. We drive the ball right off the fairway or hit it into the trap. Everybody does. Every good businessperson has an off day and makes some bad deals. Every good line worker does something to mess up a batch of the product. Every good spouse says something that would be better left unsaid. Every good student doesn’t perform well on a test. Every good preacher preaches some awful sermons.
Take Jonah the prophet, for instance. Talk about bad beginnings. God tells him to go to Nineveh and he runs in the opposite direction. Bad beginning. Talk about a trap. You try riding around in the belly of a whale for three days and nights! Trapped.
But “the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time.” While enjoying his Carnival Lines cruise, Jonah hunkered down and began to concentrate. God was preparing him for hitting the ball out in the right direction, right up to the pin. Jonah was experiencing the first “R” of repentance, the road to repentance.
Jonah traveled the road to repentince. The people of Nineveh had traveled that same road to repentance. They had bad beginnings and got stuck in traps, too. Maybe that’s why Jonah didn’t want to go. They reminded him of his own sins.
Nineveh was three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah traveled one days’ journey into the city. Yet his journey had been much, much farther than one day down the road to repentance.
How far down life’s road to repentance do you travel before realizing that you’ve had a bad beginning? How many crises do you choose to endure before repenting? The road to repentance is rough and rugged, filled with bumps and barriers. What’s your road like? What traps are you caught in? Traveling down the road to repentance isn’t especially scenic. It’s downright awful at times.
If we follow the road to repentance far enough, we arrive at an intersection where we can choose to continue in our sin or we can follow the signs to the second “R” of repentance, the remorse of repentance. The remorse of repentance causes us to hunker down and concentrate on where it is God wants us to hit the ball, to where it is our Lord has placed the pin. The remorse of repentance causes you to change your behavior from what you want to what God wants.
The people of Nineveh, upon hearing Jonah’s message — “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown” — believed in God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth and ashes, a symbol of extreme sorrow and mourning. The people of Nineveh experienced a real spiritual revival which was so prevalent that the king even repented and proclaimed a kingdom-wide fast, including the animals. When sinful living is encountered by the Word of God, the remorse of repentance takes place.
The remorse of repentance is more than simply saying, “I’m sorry.” It’s more than just being sorry for what you said or did. It’s allowing God to change your life, to lead you. That’s why Jesus came — to redeem our bad beginnings into heavenly living. Changed behavior is the proof of the remorse of repentance.
Someone has cynically written, “A Christian is a man who feels repentance on a Sunday for what he did on Saturday and is going to do on Monday.” Unfortunately, too many of us live like this man. I like much, much better the child’s definition of repentance: “It’s being sorry enough to quit.”
There is a third “R” of repentance, the reward for repentance. The reward for repentance is divine forgiveness, compassion, and mercy. When the people of Nineveh repented, “turned from their evil ways,” God rewarded them by not allowing them to be overthrown. Forty days came and went and the city of Nineveh was secure.
In verse 10, the Scriptures tell us something interesting: “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God repented of the evil which He had said He would do to them; and He did not do it.” The word translated “repented” in reference to God is different from the repenting that Jonah, the people of Nineveh and you and I do. It translates literally, “God breathed a sign of relief.” God was relieved that Nineveh wouldn’t be overthrown. Our Lord God reacts out of mercy and compassion when we repent. Our Savior transforms and redeems our evil ways into goodness.
God wants to keep us off the rocky road and on the righteous road. God has been with us throughout the journey. God has offered us at every mile marker the opportunity to change directions, turn from our evil ways, hit the ball out of the trap and to the pin. God has been a prayer away the entire journey.
But we, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, have lessons to learn. You remember how at the end of the movie, Dorothy melted the wicked witch of the West, and discovered that the great Oz was a mere mortal. Then, Glenda, the good witch of the North, returned to the scene to tell Dorothy she had the power all along to go home, but first she had to learn some lessons.
“What did you learn, Dorothy?” asked the Tin Man. Dorothy replied that she had learned if she ever again went looking for her heart’s desire, she wouldn’t look any farther than her own backyard.
Dorothy was right, you know. Our heart’s desire won’t be found someplace else. Not in the Land of Oz. Not on a self-chosen, unrepentant road of life. Your heart’s desire is found in your own backyard and it’s only a prayer away.
You and I both have traveled, perhaps are traveling the road to repentance. We’ve hit some lousy shots into traps. But you don’t have to stay in the trap. Hunker down, concentrate, and repent with remorse for your sins. Don’t just be sorry, be sorry enough to quit; for when you quit, God starts.
Change your course of direction right now. Let Jesus transform your evil into righteousness right now by making Him Lord of your life. (LJF)
4th Sunday after Epiphany (B)
January 30, 1994
Eating to Another’s Taste
(1 Corinthians 8:1-13)
There are some who say that what is right is always right. Situational ethics suggest that what is right is determined by the situation. Paul suggests that what is right is always right but how you live and bear witness to that right is shaped and given direction by different situations. The context of how a truth is to be lived and expressed has great power upon the way a truth looks and sounds. So perhaps we would do well to remind ourselves of the context of this discussion about whether or not Christians could be permitted to eat meat which had been sacrificed to idols.
As you read the Old Testament you begin to be aware that there were a lot of sacrifices required of the Jewish people. Perhaps we forget that there would have been as many sacrifices expected of those who worship Zeus and Jupiter and the whole host of other gods and goddesses in the ancient world. And capitalism is not new. There is always somebody interested in taking that dead animal and butchering it and offering that meat for sale to the public. The worshipper sacrificed it. The temple officials sold the meat to vendors and the vendors offered the butchered meat to the public with the statement on it that it had been “sacrificed for sacred purposes.” Even as there are butchers standing outside the arenas of the Spanish bull fights waiting to pick up the bull and carry it to their butcher shop, so there were people outside the temples who were ready to prepare the sacrificed animals for selling.
For the Jewish people all animals sacrificed to other gods and goddesses were forbidden. That meat was prohibited from the orthodox Jew because it would not have had the tithe paid on it, it was tainted by idolatry, and it was improperly slaughtered and would have contained blood. The young Christians in Corinth — who had been excited by Paul’s preaching of Christian freedom from “works righteousness,” and who had been told by Paul that the law did not give life and therefore they were free from the law — began to rejoice and to live in their new freedom by ignoring the old laws and eating the meat.
And Paul really is in agreement with that understanding. We know there is no God but the God who has come and lived and died for us in Jesus Christ. And that food, having been sacrificed to the “man in the moon,” is no different than it would have been had it been used in a Greek drama and then sold to the public. The ritual had no power because there was no God to give the ritual reality; therefore the meat is still basic meat. So yes, “we all have that knowledge” that meat sacrificed to idols is really just good old meat.
But Paul does not stop there. He realizes that just because a person gets a little knowledge does not automatically or completely change them. There are those who have grown up participating in those religions and while they know in their heads they are free, everytime they eat meat sacrificed to idols they have qualms. There are those who have been reared in the Jewish tradition who have been told all their lives not to eat that meat; they may acknowledge their freedom and yet feel like a heel everytime they eat that meat.
From the ages of three to about thirteen I grew up in a small Florida town. My mother and father and the whole town believed that things stopped on Sunday. Stores were all closed. Movie theaters were closed. Southern Blue Laws and my parents taught us weekly that certain things were not acceptable on Sunday. Then one summer Sunday evening, my neighbors across the street invited me to go see a drive-in movie. Like these young Corinthian Christians, I used every line of reasoning about how if we were saved by God’s love, seeing the movie on Sunday wasn’t any worse than seeing it on Saturday. If a thing was acceptable to do on Wednesday, by a faithful Christian, it was surely acceptable for a faithful Christian to do it on Sunday. But yet, as I sat there watching the movie “The Long Gray Line,” I was filled with a prevailing sense of wistfulness, a deep and painful sense of regret for having come, a longing to return to that time when I had not come to the movies on Suday. I was ashamed of myself. I was caught up in a powerful sense of having dome something that was not good.
Paul asks, what about those who still are bothered by the sign “sacrificed for sacred purpose”? How are you going to build up the Body of Christ by your exercise of your knowledge if it causes pain, regret, or produces estrangement of their hearts from their Christ? How much authority does knowledge give us? Does knowledge give us the right to impose our will upon those who do not yet share that knowledge? Does the new freedom that comes with our knowledge free us from all constraints and responsibilities for other people? What is the power of knowledge? Does our knowledge make us masters of the situation?
That is such an important question for us in the last part of the twentieth century, what kind of authority does correct knowledge give us? If I have more information on a subject, does that put me in charge? Does greater insight into truth make me the one who decides What shall be served at the table? We have been living by that principle for the last two hundred years. We have unlocked more and more secrets of the universe and we have seen ourselves as more and more master of history and nature. We know how electricity works and we make it do what we want. We know more and more about medicine, so we keep people alive longer and longer. We have developed the very clear understanding of human beings as exploiters and managers and creators of our own future because we have knowledge. We have knowledge and we have become convinced that the one with the knowledge gets to be the one who decides things.
But Paul suggests that there is one question that must be asked that we in our culture have never asked: what else is necessary to be master? Paul puts knowledge in contact with love. Paul asks, “Do you love enough to be master?” At the most rudimentary level, the question is whether or not we are capable of loving that which we want to master. Is the mastery born of love for the other person or is there in it a discernible contempt, a looking down? Does this knowledge bring a desire to decide for the other person because it wants to bring the others up to their full potential — for that is love’s constant desire, to desire the best for the beloved — or is it rather a matter of aggrandizing one’s own existence? Will the one with the knowledge be willing to sacrifice her own comfort, his own convenience, their own pleasure for the welfare of those who have qualms, questions, and reservations?
Nietzsche, even in his opposition to Christianity, gave it the compliment to say, Christianity makes a prerequisite of mastery the love of what is mastered. Before we are permitted to be the one who has the authority to decide, we must love the one for whom we are deciding. Knowledge is best served when it is constrained by love. Nothing ought to be judged solely from the point of view of knowledge; everything ought to be judged from the point of view of God’s love for the other person.
You and I make much different decisions about the ones we love than we do about the ones we do not care about. Paul says your knowledge is right, but before you go imposing your standards upon those who are not yet where you are, you must first learn of God and His love for them. When you love those whom you would decide for the way God loves them, you will discover that you will be much more ready to honor their menu and their requests than you are now.
By the knowledge we have in Christ Jesus we know that in the end it is not knowledge that saves us. We are right: it is not eating meat offered to idols that redeems us. We are not saved by those rituals; neither are we condemned by keeping them. But we are saved, all of us, by the grace of God given to us in Jesus Christ. In the joy of Christian fellowship, my knowledge, my freedom, is always willing to be constricted and restrained for your joy and your redemption, even as you are willing to be of service in Christ to me. (RB)
Sermon briefs in this issue are provided by: Gary D. Stratman, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Newark, OH; Rick Brand, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Henderson, NC; L. Joey Faucette, Jr., Pastor, Riley’s Creek Baptist Church, Rocky Point, NC; Eric Killinger, a Presbyterian minister in Birmingham, AQL: and Michael Duduit, Editor of Preaching.

Share This On: