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 SERMON TEXT 
Monday, August 25 2014

Matthew 16:13-20
    Just two weeks ago, I got a new pair of glasses.  I had stepped on my older pair, and broke them beyond the point of repair.  Since I hadn’t had an eye exam in over two years – I guess you could say it was time anyway.  And I came away with these things.  Bifocals.

     Now the last time I had a pair of bifocals was seven years ago.  That’s when I had to start wearing eye glasses for the first time.  Had them two weeks.  Couldn’t stand them.  So I returned them for a pair of glasses to correct my distance vision only.  

    This time around – I am finding that – although I still don’t like wearing bifocals – I confess to a certain wounded pride at being at the age where I have to wear glasses at all – but I find that these really aren’t so bad.  They really do help.
 
    For instance – the print in our worship bulletins just seemed to be getting smaller all the time – you know what I mean? – especially on Saturday.  That’s when I serve as the song leader – I lead the songs that we sing – and sometimes I just couldn’t see the lyrics on the printed page.  So that really was the deciding factor last week as I led worship I could actually read everything clearly. So that’s when I decided I am going to keep these bifocals this time around.  

    So here’s what I discovered.  These bifocals – well – they force me now to look at things differently.  I have to point my nose – that’s what they told me when I first put these things on – I have to point my nose at what I want to look at.  Or I have to tilt my head a certain way to get things into focus.  I find things are distorted if I don’t do that.  So I find myself doing this with my head (moving it all around until I find the right focal point).  I slide them down the bridge of my nose – just a bit – when I’m driving.  I haven’t yet gotten used to tilting my head down. Nancy likes to remind me that I’ve always driven with my head up anyway – and she says I tend to walk around that way too.

    So it’s an adjustment.  I look at things – I have to look at things – differently than the way I used to.  

    Now I know that that’s a long introduction into what I want to say today.  Just as these bifocals make me look at the world differently – I want you to be thinking about how you might look at Jesus differently.  Which begs the question, how do you look at Jesus?  And now you might be thinking, well, gee, I don’t know.  How should I look at Jesus?  Glad you asked.

    But that is kind of the question of the day, isn’t it!  For instance, do the words that you hear proclaimed from God’s Word every weekend here at worship – lead you to look at Jesus differently?  Does a text like today’s text make you sit up and listen – make you think and ask yourself, “Who do I say that Jesus is?”

    I want to suggest that today’s reading in Matthew’s  Gospel – the question that Jesus asks his disciples in today’s Gospel – is perhaps THE most important question that any follower of Jesus Christ could ever be asked – and therefore have to answer.  I think it’s even more important than the question, “Do you believe in Jesus?”  And if you’re answer to the question, “Do you believe in Jesus?” is yes, then what is it that you believe about Jesus?  Who do you say that he is?  

     You see – questions about belief – belief in God – belief in Jesus Christ – these are important questions that are asked often in the Christian Scriptures.  For instance, there was the time when a friend of Jesus’ named Lazarus had died – the brother of Mary and Martha – and he goes to console Mary and Martha – and by the way – to raise Lazarus from the dead – which he does – and he says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live….Do you believe this?”  And Martha’s answer is classic.  She says, “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

    Now that’s pretty much the same answer that Peter gives Jesus when Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  And Peter says – again, classic answer – “You are the Messiah [in other words, “you are the Christ”], the Son of the living God!”

    The disciples are learning – Peter is learning – Mary and Martha are learning – to look at Jesus in a different way – in a way that is different than the way the rest of the world looked at Jesus.  In fact, when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do PEOPLE say that I am?”  He got answers like, John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets.

    So when Jesus asks, “Yes but, who do you say that I am?” the disciples got it right.  It’s one of those rare times in Scripture when the disciples – or at least in this case Peter – got it right.  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”

    So you see, it’s one thing to believe.  And it’s important that we believe.  It’s important that we do believe that Jesus is exactly who he says he is.  The Savior.  The Christ.  The Son of God.  Lord.  I say that because you can believe whatever it is you want to believe – and people do – they believe whatever it is they want to believe about Jesus.  But they don’t always get it right.  So I think that when you say that you do indeed believe in Jesus, then the next question – and again – I think the critical question is – what is it – what do you believe about him?  Or in other words, “Who do you say that He is?”  We’ve got to get that one right.

    For instance, ask any Muslim who Jesus is, and they will say: “Prophet, yes. God, no!”  Ask anyone of the Jewish faith who Jesus is, and they will say, “He was a great teacher.  But Messiah, no!”  Others will say he was an extraordinary man who lived an exemplary life, but was he divine?  No!

    So there are many, many people alive in the world today who will say they believe that Jesus really existed, that he was a great teacher – a religious man – but dismiss any claims that Jesus had – or that we as his followers today have – about him being the Christ, the Son of God.  They dismiss this as nonsense.

    So, you see, the question – and the answer to this question – is important.  How do you look at Jesus.  Who do you say that he is?

    Now there are all kinds of names – all kinds of titles – all kinds of claims that are given to Jesus by the writers of the New Testament – particularly in the Gospels.  And these New Testament authors were simply answering the question, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” based upon what they heard, what they had seen, what they experienced of Jesus Himself.  So what we get are names and titles like these: Son of David, Son of Man, Son of God, prophet, priest, king, the bridegroom, the Light of the world, the way, the truth, the life, the door, the gate, the vine, high priest, the firstborn of creation, the bright and morning star, the Alpha and the Omega.  The Gospel of John alone gives Jesus all kinds of names and titles, which I find quite fascinating.  All of these are ways to answer this question that Jesus Himself asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

    Now listen.  There is no more important question that you and I can answer.  No other question comes close.  It’s important because how we answer that question – and you know I like to say this a lot – how we answer that question is important because eternity hangs in the balance.  

    Because no matter how anybody else answers this question – the really important thing is how YOU answer this question.  That’s what Jesus is really interested in.  One of my personal heroes – Martin Luther – wrote: “I care not whether he be Christ, but that he be Christ for you.”

    So why is it important that we get the answer right?  Well, not only does eternity hang in the balance – but how we look at Jesus – who he is, what he has done for us – will have an impact on how we live our lives in the now.  

    One of the wonderful things I find about recognizing – and saying – that Jesus is Lord, is that there is a transformation that comes along with that recognition.  I’m no longer the man I used to be.  And if Nancy were here, she’d say, “Thank God for that!”  The fact that I can say that Jesus is Lord has made me more loving, kinder, less critical – and quite frankly, the Holy Spirit is still working on me with that one.  But it’s a recognition that it’s not about me.  It’s about Jesus.  It’s about loving God.  It’s about loving my neighbor.  

    So, who do YOU say that Jesus is?  You have heard me say in numerous sermons now, something that C.S. Lewis once gave us to think about.  According to Lewis, we have just four ways really to think about Jesus.  Either he was a legend, in other words, he never really existed.  Or he is a liar, or he is a lunatic.  But could a mere man who said the things that Jesus said – and who did the things that Jesus did – be either a liar or a lunatic?  I don’t think so.  So if he is not a legend – in other words – Jesus really did – and he really does exist – and if he is not a liar and he is not a lunatic – that leaves us with just one option.  And that is to say that Jesus is exactly who he says he is – that he is Lord.
 
    There are no other choices.  So what is it?  What do you say?  Legend, liar, lunatic or Lord?  Who do YOU say that Jesus is?  

    Again, C.S. Lewis, in his book, Mere Christianity, says this. “I am here trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any of that patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. Nor did he intend to.”

    So forgive me for putting you on the spot this morning/evening, but hey, if I didn’t ask, I wouldn’t be doing my job.  How do you look at Jesus?  Who do you say that he is?   Is he YOUR Messiah?  Is he the Lord of your life?

    My hope – and my prayer – is that we would all get this right.  That you would say with every fiber of your being, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.”    Amen

Posted by: AT 01:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, August 18 2014

Matthew 14:13–21

    Most of you are familiar with the name Yogi Berra.  He played baseball for the New York Yankee a number of years back.  He has become perhaps as well known for his – well, shall we say, creative use of the English language as he is for playing baseball.  He was featured several years ago in an Aflac commercial – sitting in a barber’s chair – talking about Aflac insurance.  You remember that commercial?  
    
    He’s in the barber’s chair, singing the praises of this insurance company, and he says – “… and they give you money, which is just as good as cash.”  

    When giving directions to his home, he often told people, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.”  When talking about baseball he said this, “Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical.”  

    How about this one!  “The towels were so thick there, I could hardly close my suitcase.”  And then there was the time when talking about a certain restaurant that he said, “That place is so crowded, no one goes there anymore.”

    Speaking of restaurants, there was the time he went to a restaurant by himself and ordered a large pizza. The waitress asked if he would like it cut into four or six pieces. And he said, “You better cut the pizza in four pieces, because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”

    Today’s Gospel reading is the story of Jesus feeding the crowd – not with pizza – but with five loaves of bread and two fish.  The Bible says 5000 men in addition to women and children were there.  And unlike Yogi’s famous six pieces, I think this crowd of people was more than delighted to know that Jesus was able to cut five loaves and two fish into enough pieces to satisfy everyone.  

Skeptics over the years have tried to explain away the supernatural power that Jesus has to perform miracles.  This is especially so when it comes to the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.  

I’ve told you this before, but I want to debunk again something that is said all too often about this miracle.  One widely spread attempt to explain away the miraculous nature of the feeding of the 5,000 is to say that people were moved by the generosity of a little boy who shared his lunch.  And notice that Matthew does not tell us where the disciples got the five loaves and two fish from.  When John writes about this event in his gospel, that’s where we learn of the boy who hands over his bread and his fish.  

But a modern explanation – and again – I want you to know that I totally disagree with this explanation – but it is told so often that I just have to refute it – one modern explanation for the multiplication of the loaves and fish suggests that everyone in the crowd who had brought food with them brought that food out of their traveling pouches –and lo and behold, everyone had enough to eat.  And then the point of the story turns away from who Jesus is – and what Jesus can do – and turns it into a nice Sunday School lesson about sharing.  It’s just a ridiculous attempt to take the miracle out of the miraculous.  

     Folks, let me tell you, that if Jesus is the Messiah – if he is indeed the Son of God – if Jesus is exactly who he says he is – then there is no question but that he performed miracles, and did so on a regular basis. So when you read or listen to the telling of the miracles of Jesus – please remember that the purpose they serve is to tell us something about who Jesus is – AND a second thing – is to call forth a response from us to what we have heard or read.
 
So not only is this a well-known episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples – but it is so important that it is the only miracle of Jesus recorded by all four Gospel writers.

Now here’s the thing.  As this passage begins, we find Jesus looking for a little down-time.  He has just learned that his cousin – John the Baptizer – has been beheaded by the order of King Herod.  So Jesus needs to get away.  But – as is almost always the case – the crowds find him, and as we have already seen, it is a crowd that is overwhelming.

The first thing we’re told is that Jesus has compassion on the crowd.  And after a busy day of healing – and perhaps a little preaching on the side – it’s evening.  It’s time for other things.  Think about it.  Even if it IS Jesus who you’re listening to, 5,000 plus people are going to demand a bathroom break.  And they’re going to want something to eat too.

The disciples’ answer to the food problem is, “Send them away!  Let them go elsewhere to buy what they need to eat.”

But Jesus?  Even after a busy day, he is still showing compassion.  He says, “They need not go away.  Peter, Andrew, Philip, Matthew, Thomas – you give them something to eat.”

“Uh, Lord?  You’ve gotta be kidding, right?  There’s more than 5,000 people here.  All we’ve got in our hands are five loaves of bread, and two fish some kid brought along with him.”

And Jesus says, “Bring them here.  You bring them here to me.  I’ll take what you’ve got – and you just sit back – and you just watch.”  And Jesus takes that bread.  And he takes that fish.  And he looks up to heaven, and he blesses it, and he breaks it, and he gives it to his disciples, and they give it to the crowd, and everyone eats, and they gather up – how many baskets left over?  Twelve.  That’s right, twelve.   

And this is the miracle.  From these five loaves and these two fish – remember, there was no other food – Jesus miraculously provides enough food for everybody to be filled – with 12 baskets left over!  One basket for each disciple to bring back to Jesus.  Don’t miss that!  Here they come – carrying a basket of leftovers – shaking their heads, saying, “I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it!”  You see, Jesus was still impressing on these disciples who he is and what he can do.  He is still making an impression on us  about who he is and what he can do!

May I suggest to you that whenever Jesus performs a miracle – that miracle begins with compassion.  But then, at least in this case, something else was needed.  And that something else was when somebody else placed something – in this case bread and fish – into Jesus’ hands.   If there’s any sharing going on in this miracle – it is the sharing by one little boy of the lunch his mother had packed for him that day.  

Do you see what’s going on here?  God can use whatever it is that we have in our hands and place into God’s hands.  Some gift.  Some ministry.  Some person moved by compassion into an act of kindness.  God can use those things – God can use you – God can use me – and what it is we hold in our hands for God’s glory, for the benefit of others, and for our own good.

    Let me share with you a story.  It’s a story about a young lad, 13 years old at the time, who read about Dr. Albert Schweitzer's missionary work in Africa. He wanted to help. He had enough money to buy one bottle of aspirin. He wrote to the Air Force and asked if they could fly over Dr. Schweitzer's hospital and drop the bottle down to him. A radio station broadcast the story about this young fellow's concern for helping others. Others responded as well. Eventually, he was flown by the government to Schweitzer's hospital along with 4 1/2 tons of medical supplies worth $400,000 freely given by thousands of people. This, of course, would be the equivalent of millions of dollars today. When Dr. Schweitzer heard the story, he said, “I never thought one child could do so much.”
     Our Gospel story today is about Jesus.  It involves a child – a child who didn't have much.  But what he did have, he offered to Christ.  And thousands of hungry people were fed.

Folks, Christianity can never be thought of as something that you do on your own.  You cannot be a Lone Ranger with a Lone Ranger faith in today’s church!  We’re not in this alone.  This is a partnership – a partnership between God – between you – and me.  It is a partnership of people of faith – moved by compassion – the same compassion that Jesus showed to the crowds.  God takes what we have to offer, and then uses if for His glory, for the benefit of others, and for our own good.

You see, when we hear or read stories like this one, we have a choice.  We can either choose to be bystanders – spectators enjoying a good story – or we can enter into the story.  We can stay on the sidelines – or we can get into the game.   

Every week, when we pass the plate, we do that not because God needs our money, because God doesn’t.  But we all recognize that WE have a need.  We have a need to take what’s been placed into our hands and place it into God’s hands, and then stand back and watch what God can do with it.  

You see, what we have to offer – what we hold in our hands – no matter what it is – and the amount isn’t important – whether it be a check, or money –  which is just as good as cash – or time offered at Habitat for Humanity – or Family Promise – or Mission trips to Haiti or Belize – whatever it is you are called to do – or wherever it is that you show compassion – we are placing that time – we are placing those gifts – taking them from our hands, and putting them into God’s hands –AS AN ACT OF WORSHIP – so that God can put it to use.   

Again – it is in serving others where real joy is found.  Not always convenient, I know.  And it’s certainly not always easy.  But let me ask you anyway.  What are you ready to release?  For God’s glory – for the benefit of others – and for your own good – what  are you ready to release?  What do you hold in your hands?  
                                    
                                        Amen

Posted by: AT 08:49 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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9535 Clarence Center Road

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Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656
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