Monday, October 27, 2014

Becoming Humble---Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

This Sunday is All Saints Sunday, as well as Communion Sunday for us. What an important day this is as we recognize those who have gone before us, as well as Christ's sacrifice for us. Our lives are impacted by those family members and friends that have shown us the love of God in real and tangible ways. They lived as representations of the incarnate God, who lives with us through the love of others.

I think of my grandmother when I hear the word "saint." It wasn't because she was perfect, overly pious, but because she showed me that God loved me. She loved me. I hope and expect that many of us have those people in our lives, now gone, that live on through what the taught and showed us. Their love lives on through us. God's love lived through them.

Matthew 23: 1-12 teaches us to be humble, for it is the humble who will be exalted. Those who are proud will be humbled by God. That is not a dull affair, folks. Being humbled by God does not simply mean that God will nicely point out where we fall short of a humble servant's heart. When we "lift ourselves up," (v12) we are setting ourselves up to be "brought back down to earth" by God.

Many of the saints that have gone before us have shown us the humility that this passage is trying to get us to reach or pursue. People of God who make an impact on us do so by showing us that it is not all about them, but about others, about God. Showing God's love is not a proud endeavor in which we can "puff ourselves up" because it always points to God, not ourselves.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less. Humility means not placing yourself too high or too low, but just where you belong. It's OK to be proud of what is happening in your life. The danger is giving ourselves too much credit, and not enough to God and to those around us.

See you on Sunday, where we will remember and celebrate the saints that have gone before us, as well as the humble sacrifice Jesus made for us.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Great Commandment---Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Our sermon series, "The Upside-Down Kingdom" will close this week with one of the most powerful, practical, essential, simple, difficult, and important things that Jesus ever said:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself." 

These commandments are not hard to understand, but they are so difficult to truly follow. It's as if Jesus knows that we will have to spend our life dedicated to this task of love in order to truly follow it. These commandments are not static; it takes an attitude of love each day in order to follow them. For the disciples and those questioning Jesus, these commands replaced the laws of sacrifice in order to appease God. For us today, these commandments shed new light on our practices and beliefs. These commandments become the essence of the Christian life.

These are not laws but rather an invitation to live according to God's grace and love for us, which will bring us joy and purpose in our lives.

The kingdom is upside-down, this is true from these verses as well. The kingdom of heaven represents the truism that we are filled up with God's love not when we absorb it all for ourselves, but give it back to God and to those around us. But we should not forget that Jesus also expects us to love ourselves well, saying "love your neighbor as yourself." We need not give and love so much that we don't know and experience God's love for ourselves.

See you on Sunday!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

This Sunday's sermon will be focused on Matthew 20:1-16, which is the parable of the workers in the vineyard. I debated using this passage back in July during the "Pictures of the Kingdom" series, and it would have fit in well there, too. This parable begins like the ones we have looked at before. Jesus begins telling the parable by saying "The Kingdom of heaven is like..." The punchline at the end of the passage made me think to save it for this series, because the statement is SO upside-down:

"So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”

We are so use to expecting to get "what we deserve" and what is "fair" all the time. When we don't, we like we have been cheated, taken advantage of, and we likely to respond in a way such as those first workers who showed up at the vineyard. Jesus presents another upside-down picture of the kingdom: what you deserve and what is owed to you does not matter. Truth be told, we don't deserve anything from Jesus, yet he is always there. What he has done, is doing, and will do for us is not based on our merit, but on God's love and grace. 

The landowner told those first workers who showed up that they would get a denarian for their work that day, and that was a very generous amount of coin. What he did not tell them is that the "late" workers would also get that amount, for working less. 

Friends, Jesus love and grace is the same amount for all who show up to follow him, no matter how "late" they are. 

See you on Sunday!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Where Two or Three are Gathered...---Sunday, October 12th, 2014

Our Scripture passage for this Sunday in which the sermon is based off of is Matthew 18: 15-20.

Most of us can finish the statement beginning "where two or three are gathered" with "I am there." Jesus is saying here that he is with us when we gather together. This statement has been generalized and has lost some of its original meaning. We say it to mean that Jesus is present with us when we gather in his name, and this is very true, but I'm afraid that isn't quite what Jesus was getting at in this particular case.

Jesus was concerned about disputes among the disciples, and this is easy to imagine. It has already been noted in the beginning of chapter 18 that they wondered who would be the greatest in the kingdom of God, and they had just been told that they must become like children. The disciples undoubtedly had disputes among themselves and probably got angry with each other as well, possibly quarreling over who was the greatest among them. This is what Jesus is responding to. He tells them how to solve a dispute, and reminds them that he is with them as they attempt to resolve conflict. In the culture of their day, which is informed by Hebrew Scriptures, disputes in the court of law were handled with care. "Where two or three" are gathered actually refers to Deuteronomy 19:15 where a testimony from a single witness is not enough to convict someone of a crime. Evidence from two or three other witnesses is needed.

So, God is with us as we gather together in worship, study, or in God's name in anyway (and God is with us always), but this passage says that we are helped in our disputes by a God who desires for us to deal with conflict with love, understanding, and grace. This is also helps to clear up that what we do alone can be done in God's name; God is with us when we are alone as well, but desires us to solve disputes with the help, witness, and evidence that others bring.

We can learn a lot here, folks. We are not perfect, but God has our backs, even when we are quarreling. It's not wrong to argue or disagree, there is just a proper way to deal with it!

See you Sunday!